While I was sitting on a train, there was a woman who was happily colouring in a book. It struck me as odd, an adult engaging in a childhood pastime. Was I wrong!
Adult colouring books have flooded bookshops everywhere in the last few years with their empty patterns of mandalas, animals and floral designs.
But what makes them so popular?
Colouring can help you channel your inner artist, de-stress and bring a sense of peace. But is there truly a benefit of colouring for adults? And does this pastime please and calm our brains?
According to clinical psychologist Scott M Bea at Cleveland Clinic, Ohio, US, it’s all about refocusing our attention.
“Adult colouring requires modest attention focused outside of self-awareness,” Dr Bea says. “It’s a simple activity that takes us outside ourselves in the same way as cutting the lawn, knitting or taking a Sunday drive.”
How? Dr Bea cites three reasons why adult colouring can be calming. Attention flows away from ourselves with a simple absorbing act such as colouring. Your attention concentrates on the present moment. “In this way, it is very much like a meditative exercise,” Dr Bea says. It also relaxes the brain when thoughts are focused on a simple activity like colouring. “The difficulties of life evaporate from your awareness, and both your body and your brain may find this rewarding.”
Low stakes make it pleasurable, especially colouring inside the lines.
“It is hard to screw up colouring, and, even if you do, there is no real consequence. Adult colouring
can be a wonderful escape, rather than a demanding test of our capacities,” he adds.
There’s little research on adult colouring though art therapy has been used for many years with much success. In a 2006 study, researchers found that mindfulness art therapy for women with cancer helped to ease the symptoms of physical and emotional distress during their treatment.
Art therapy has also helped people with other conditions like depression, anxiety, addictions and trauma.
In a more recent study, researchers evaluated the effectiveness of colouring a complex geometric design, like a mandala, on reducing anxiety in a group of undergraduate students.
The results showed a fall in anxiety levels and suggested colouring created a sort of meditative state that’s helpful for reducing anxiety.