Why Coloring As an Adult Is the Latest Health Craze

Adult coloring is one of the hottest new hobbies around. For many of us, coloring offers a simple and inexpensive way to ease stress, foster creativity and reconnect with the ageless pleasure of seeing color bring a picture alive.

Why Coloring as an Adult Is the Latest Health Craze
Mari Pi

Coloring might seem like an unlikely pastime for anyone beyond elementary school. If you haven’t checked out the coloring book section of your favorite book or art supply store lately, though, you’re in for a surprise. There are thousands of adult coloring books devoted to varied themes, including gardens, animals, TV shows, cars, mandalas and art deco design.

The Health Benefits of Coloring as an Adult

“Coloring provides an escape from stress,” says Gaelynn Wolf Bordonaro, PhD, director of the graduate art therapy program at Emporia State University in Kansas and a board member of the American Art Therapy Association. “[When we color] our concentration is focused on choosing colors and filling in spaces.”

That means we’re not focused on finishing chores or fretting over bills.

Coloring can lift our mood when we’re having a bad day. It can also offer a few minutes of welcome respite from, say, worrying about a health problem or the all-consuming pain of losing a loved one. There may also be an element of happy reminiscence, as coloring triggers memories from long ago. Plus, coloring with others is a great bonding activity. Try coloring at the kitchen table with your grandkids or together with a spouse or parent with dementia.

Adult Coloring Books Versus Art Therapy

Despite their benefits, adult coloring books that claim to provide art therapy are overreaching, Bordonaro says, adding that true art therapy is a mental health profession, practiced by trained clinicians. A coloring book can’t replace professional guidance in times of emotional crisis or when you’re dealing with chronic emotional distress. It can however, she notes, be a good part of a self-care routine.

Workarounds for Grip or Eyesight Trouble

You don’t need to spend a lot of money on tools, though a decent set of colored markers, pens or pencils can go a long way. If you have trouble getting a firm grasp on small objects, Carla Sutter, director of operations for Synergy HomeCare, recommends using inexpensive slip-on pen and pencil grips. Also, some adult coloring books are very intricate with delicate designs and tiny spaces to fill in, which can be challenging for those with visual impairment or aging eyes. If you find yourself straining to see details in the pictures, try a large-print coloring book.

Don’t Worry About Making Mistakes

Coloring as an adult is a no-pressure way to get creative, especially if you don’t normally think of yourself as artistic. “A blank page can be intimidating,” says Cheryl Walpole, a senior art therapist at New York Creative Arts Therapists, “but coloring seems so welcoming and easy.” Focus on having fun and let the stress melt away, says Walpole, who as a contributor to The Real Art Therapists of New York Coloring Book has been helping host promotional coloring events around New York City for the past several months.

“People love having a chance to de-stress and be a little more mindful,” she says. “We held one event in the middle of Times Square, and participants told us that coloring helped them relax, even there.”

About the Writer

Linda Wasmer Andrews

Linda is a health writer with a master's degree in psychology. She has specialized in writing about the mind, the body and the intersection of the two for more than three decades.

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