How adult colouring therapy could improve your mental health

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Adult colouring has rocketed in popularity this year. We uncover how people across the UK are using it to combat stress and anxiety.

adult colouring therapy

When was the last time you did some colouring in?

For many adults, it may not be as long ago as you might think. Adult colouring therapy is a craze sweeping the nation – interest has rocketed by 1283% from January 2015 according to Google Trends, and four of the top ten books on Amazon.co.uk are colouring books.

What exactly has caused this explosion in crayon wielding? One explanation is the discovery that colouring is actually a great way to fight stress and anxiety.

It’s no secret that the working world has become more and more stressful. An estimated 9.9 million working days are lost each year in the UK due to stress-related conditions. Much of this stress is attributed to our lack of ability to “switch off” – we move from screen to screen, work emails follow us back home on our mobiles and marketing messages pressurise us to do better everywhere we turn.

As a social media marketer, Dane Cobain both lives and works in this world. In early 2014 he was suffering badly from anxiety and turned to a Christmas present from his brother for comfort – an adult colouring book called Fill Bill.

“Originally, it was to take my mind off things – eventually, I started doing a colouring every evening before bed, with the theory that it’d be better to do that than to write, or watch TV, or to play on my phone.

“It takes your mind off stuff, and it’s just generally therapeutic – I tend to find that even if you sit there and watch TV, there’s inevitably something that’s dark or depressing. The news, for a start. Even in comedy shows, there are usually dark bits, or jokes about death. Concentrating on colouring helps you to block out everything else and just to focus on not going over the lines.”

(Dane has reviewed one of the most popular adult colouring books on his blog.)

Adult Colouring Therapy
One of Dane's completed designs. He puts his favourites up in his room.

So what’s the science behind all this? Adult colouring is associated with a meditation technique called mindfulness, which has also exploded in popularity over recent years as a means to combat stress and anxiety. Mindfulness works by concentrating the mind on singular, present activities, the theory being that this leaves no room for worries or other negative feelings.

Cheryl Rickman is qualified in ‘Positive Psychology’ and has written a series of books focussed on well-being called Flourish. Her latest, The Flourish Colouring Book, combines patterns and pictures to colour in with life tips and positive, uplifting quotes.

She explains how colouring in works from a psychological perspective:

“When you colour in, the creative part of the brain is activated, whilst the information-processing part reboots. Essentially it allows us to focus on the task at hand – shading one area and then the next.

“Heart rate and brainwaves change during colouring, becoming calmer. Neurologists have found that the combination of repetition, detail and pattern prompt these calming neurological responses. That's why it has this therapeutic effect.”

The result is that colouring can be effective for all kinds of mental issues, ranging from regular stress all the way up to PTSD. We spoke to a Reddit user from Virginia, USA, who discovered she was bipolar about ten years ago when an episode saw her sectioned in a psychiatric hospital.

“About two months ago several friends happened to independently mention they do adult colouring, some on Facebook, some in person. I flash back to art therapy in the hospital and figure, why not? I buy some books and coloured pencils.

“I've found that colouring is just as effective as meditation for stress reduction and decreasing anxious thoughts. It allows the mind to rest its attention on a single subject. During that time your mind is not worrying about past interactions or fearing future interactions. It is just thinking how to shade that flower petal.”

If you’re suffering from mental health issues then perhaps adult colouring therapy could help. We’ve teamed up with Puzzler to provide you with two free samples to try out from their series Creative Colour. Just click on the pictures below to access and download the full version.

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We’d love to see your finished designs! You can tweet them to us @magazinecouk, or post them on our Facebook page.

Image via Lea Latumahina.

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