Adults across the world are suddenly going crazy over coloring. This traditional childhood pastime leap-frogged over biographies, histories, and politics to the top of the bestseller lists. Publishers promoted sales by offering a wide, imaginative range of books, some by well known illustrators. In 2013, Scottish illustrator Johanna Basford published The Secret Garden. Her initial printing of 16,000 books blew up to more than two million. Some think Brasford’s book triggered the craze. Since that explosion, coloring books have become big business—publishers say the market crosses age, gender, and geographical boundaries. Sophisticated, detailed drawings of mandalas, graceful swirling flowers, hearts and animals, created in every imaginable style, fill inexpensive ($3.99 to $25.00) books. The topics vary from traditional to R-rated, including everything from architecture to skate boarding and Kama Sutra.
I asked an acquaintance who works at a local grocery store to tell me why she colors. Her intense answer surprised me. Looking serious, Patty said, “It’s therapeutic! I can’t turn off my mind. If I walk down a grocery aisle and spot an empty box, I think about things to do with it. It’s hard to let it go. It’s constant and endless. I discovered coloring a long time ago. Before the trend. It is the only way I can turn my mind off and calm down.”
Patty had stumbled upon a playful way to unstress her own mind, a way that seems to have no negative side effects. She could have turned to destructive methods, such as alcohol, street drugs, or prescription drugs. Counselors teach their anxious clients to calm themselves with behavioral methods, such as mindfulness, deep breathing, affirmations, music, and physical activity. Coloring places a new, easily used tool in the stress lowering tool box. Coloring takes you away from worries and a chattering mind.
Some say coloring is a creative venture without the need for artistic flair or skill. Canadian artist Steve McDonald offers incomplete drawings for his “partners” to finish. This process is exciting to him. The coloring boom is inspiring artists to think “outside the lines.”
Enthusiasts have claimed coloring is meditative, it improves focus, reduces worry and anxiety, and develops the imagination. Coloring alters the mind, the body and the emotions. All three are tightly woven together. Relief in one area helps the two others. Art therapy developed as a specialty to aid talk therapy, and lets patients express emotions that are difficult to put into words. Painting and collage help release current pressures and past traumas. Coloring may or may not be art, but it works in a similar way. Neuroscientific research shows the brain can physically change, grow, and rejuvenate. Coloring has a predictable outcome which combines with repetitive motion. The heart rate gradually slows and the brain waves change. Negative emotional responses seem to be blocked during coloring. Therapists use coloring to assist in the treatment of cancer patients who feel overwhelmed. The fearful, helpless emotions get a bit of a rest.
Even in the North Sound, a relatively low-stress, natureloving area, people feel pressure from work, family, and internally. When they mix and match colors, they stimulate their senses, develop vision, and use their fine motor skills. At the same time, coloring soothes anxiety symptoms like worry, restlessness, and insomnia. The mind and emotions quiet.
Coloring is not just a solitary pursuit. Coloring clubs, coloring parties, and even coloring in bars are all the rage. The gatherings make sweet companionship, not so different from quilting bees or knitting together. You can color with your kids or with a sick friend. If you want to get back to something a little more hands-on or if you want to step away from the digital world, you can color.
Whether you choose pens or crayons, pastels or paints, enjoy the relaxation and focus that coloring can bring you.