Sarah Schwartz/The Paper ChroniclesLately it seems like everyone’s talking about meditation or its more mystifying cousin, mindfulness.
Apps, exercise classes, and weeklong retreats promise to clear your mind and improve every aspect of your life, but they’re often expensive or cloaked in hippie-dippy rhetoric that might make you cringe.
What if you could get similar results by coloring?
The latest trend has adults around the world picking up crayons and filling in the lines in an effort to zap stress. Eight of the 20 top-selling books on Amazon right now are adult coloring books with names like “Stress Relieving Patterns” and “Balance.”
The trend is popular on Pinterest, where there are boards devoted to adult coloring books. Searching Instagram for hashtags like #AdultColoringBooks or #AdultColoring yields thousand of brightly shaded results.
Katrien de Jong
Coloring books for grownups feature streamlined designs and graphics resembling stained-glass windows or Hindu mandalas, rather than shots from “Dora the Explorer.” When colored in, the book’s illustrations can make the least creative adult feel like an accomplished artist.
But does this simple technique have any therapeutic value? Experts are surprisingly positive.
"The surge in coloring book popularity could be due to the fact that people, adults particularly, see coloring as something playful, something that takes us back to a childlike state," Jennifer Drake, an associate professor of psychology at Brooklyn College, told Tech Insider.
Drake has found that creating something can improve your mood. Specifically, drawing can make a person feel better. Add the structure of coloring in a picture, and you have a perfect mix of creativity and comfort.
Psychologists refer to this concept — the balance between anxiety and boredom — as “flow.” If you try to spend your free time doing nothing, you could end up becoming anxious, but if you take part in an activity like coloring, you’ll be in a flow, requiring just the right level of activity to let you relax without feeling bored.
“Athletes refer to [flow] as ‘being in the zone,’ religious mystics as being in ‘ecstasy,’ artists and musicians as ‘aesthetic rapture,’” positive-psychology pioneer Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has said.
Playing is psychologically important throughout your entire life, not only during childhood. Psychiatrist Stuart Brown characterizes play as anything “purposeless, fun and pleasurable.” Adult coloring fits the bill.
"It's fun and playful — deciding how to do the color schemes, picking which pencils to use, and seeing a page come to life," Cryssie Jones, a 37-year-old adult colorist from Canada, told Tech Insider. "Coloring is relaxing."
“If someone saw you coloring in one of my books, they wouldn’t give you a weird look, because it’s the same kind of artwork you would see on a champagne bottle,” Basford told The New Yorker. “The artwork itself is sophisticated — not like a car or a bunny with a bow in its hair,” she explained of her popular nature-inspired coloring-book series.
But there’s backlash among some experts. Art therapist Cathy Malchiodi wrote in Psychology Today that coloring shouldn’t be treated like therapy or meditation. Instead, it’s a hobby. She even believes the daily need to color could “actually lean toward obsession.”
“Obsession” is a strong word, but the trend’s popularity on social media only continues to grow. Indeed, for some coloring may be more about showing off their coloring skills than enjoying the benefits — and those people would do well to note that studies have linked social media use with anxiety and depression.
Patty Malone Kircher
I'm not surprised that coloring-as-therapy has caught on. I come from a family of coloring enthusiasts, and I’m a believer in the practice when done right.
My mother is rarely without a bag of markers. When I left for college, a coloring book came with me. And my aunt, a mental-health therapist, uses coloring in her practice.
She finds it especially useful for people who feel anxious or have never been in counseling.
“Coloring loosens us up,” my aunt says. “It brings us to a place where we don’t have to feel inhibited.”
Disclosure: Jeff Bezos is an investor in Business Insider through his personal investment company Bezos Expeditions.