Blog Experiential Learning Expressive Arts

15 Apr 2016
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Your Inner Child Knows Best: Why Coloring Books Help Reduce Adult Stress

We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing. – George Bernard Shaw.

We live in interesting times.

Translation: Many of us are burned out and stressed to the breaking point. Daily.

Decisions can become overwhelming as we prioritize the obligations of job, relationships, family, and finances. Physical and emotional health and wellness and self-care are challenging to accomplish. Small joys and daily satisfaction can be hard to come by.

But there is a surprisingly simple (and fun) thing you can do to de-stress and alleviate daily anxiety. It’s old school. The rewards are high and there are no complex decisions to make.

What is this magical antidote?

Coloring books.

No kidding.

Therapists, social workers, and counselors alike are recommending coloring to their clients to help calm anxiety and promote mindfulness. Getting off of drugs and alcohole is stress provoking. People in recovery need a new way to find focus and remain in the present moment.

As it turns out, the rest of us can also benefit from coloring.

Coloring is a true phenomenon in the publishing world. 5 of the top 15 best-selling books on Amazon for 2015 were adult coloring books.

In 2014, there wasn’t a single coloring book in the top 100.

Curious about the rapid rise of this movement, I spoke with Joni McCracken, a coloring book author. Joni is also a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) and a therapist who coaches and teaches.

Joni has been coloring for years as part of her personal mindfulness practice. She found it to be a powerful and light-hearted way to reclaim her own creativity.

In 2014, realizing that coloring would help others, she was inspired to begin assembling pieces for her own coloring book “Color Your Essence”.

Joni sees clients’ and friends’ natural creativity rise as they play with color and get absorbed in the designs on the page. People start to take chances and open to their own inherent creativity. As she says, “We can ALL color.”

We all remember how simple and fun coloring books were when we were children. It was pure play.

Joni offers a therapist’s clarity to this: “All of the upper limit beliefs that stop us from engaging with our creativity such as ‘I can’t possibly color because I’m not an artist’ goes away.”

Everyone can do it. It takes no special skills. You make it as simple or as complex as you like. The stress of creating is gone because the design is there. You choose colors but you aren’t required to make anything demanding happen.

Coloring is low stakes and high reward on the creative front. You show up with some pens, pencils, or even crayons and you follow the lines.

Or not.

Joni’s book “Color Your Essence” includes several designs that have open space around them. This subtly encourages you to draw your own shapes and continue out to the edges of the page.

Once you try it, you quickly see how easily and naturally coloring promotes focus and mindfulness. Just a few minutes into a richly patterned page, I too became absorbed in the design and the joy of color.

This simple act of fun and pleasure helped me drop worries about family, relationships, work, money, the future and the past. There is comfort in focus. I was completely present and the easy relief it brought was akin to meditation.

I still had choice, but not the anxiety inducing kind. It’s easy to relinquish control to the shapes on the page. Choosing color and pattern become a flowing activity. It soothed my decision-making fatigue and took the edge off my stress. Tangible results, seeing the completion of a section or a page, gave me satisfaction. A small, but real, Hurrah!

Recent research shows that coloring before bed eases the wind-down from screen time and the transition to sleep.

Try it. Unplug from your sleep disturbing blue light-gadgets and grab a coloring book and gobs of crayons and colored pencils. Coloring is an easy wellness practice and you can start today.