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Are adult coloring books really good for mental health?

Each person has his or her own way of relaxing and reducing stress and anxiety. For some, it’s doing handicrafts or gardening, while for others, it’s art. Recently, however, coloring books for adults have been the trend. Buy-and-sell groups and bookstores were suddenly filled with books full of mandalas, animals, and other prints ready to be colored and customized by the buyer. Best of all, they say, adult coloring books are a cheap and very effective way to reduce stress. But is it really?

Some coloring books which are marketed as stress-reducing and color therapy.
Some coloring books which are marketed as stress-reducing and therapeutic.

According to Skepchick, “The trend of adult coloring is an offshoot of the popularity of mindful meditation and often uses mandalas with their round radiating, meditative designs as the basis for relaxing meditative coloring.”

Dr. Megan Press, a psychiatrist with the Minneapolis VA Health Care System, says that despite the hype, there are very few studies examining the relationship between art and mental health. “Even art therapy, a generally accepted practice,” she says, “has very few randomized controlled trials assessing its benefit, and those are small studies with very few subjects.”

Adult coloring books are simply a means for “time-out.” On a very busy day (or week), it sure wouldn’t hurt to squeeze in an hour or two and just relax and let your fingers do the work just for a little while. The most the brain can use in the coloring process is deciding which color goes best with what.

Dr. Press, however, said that adult coloring book manufacturers should not market their products as “stress therapy” or a treatment for any medical condition.

Some claim that coloring induces mindfulness and has the same benefits as meditation. (For the record, mindfulness is a practice that is applied to an activity. It is not “induced” by the activity itself.) Others make no claims, but include testimonials from people who have colored their way to improved health, she said.

Unfortunately, the internet has been flooded with advertisements and testimonials of people saying how coloring has helped them improve their mental health so more people are enticed to try out the coloring books for themselves. All these claims, however, are not backed up by medical evidence and, therefore, should not be taken seriously as therapy.

According to medical records, there was just one study that specifically examined the potential benefits of coloring. There were three groups in the trial and all of the participants (most of whom were college-level Caucasians) were given 20 minutes to color after an “anxiety-inducing event.” They were given a mandala, a plaid design, and a blank canvass, respectively, to work on.

“The authors readily admitted that the study had quite a few shortcomings. All of the participants were college students (roughly the same age and educational status), and the majority were Caucasian. Even a large study with this design would not necessarily apply to people with mental health diagnoses. What one person finds soothing could be overwhelming, overstimulating, and anxiety-inducing to someone else,” said Press.

Of course, this is not to discourage those into coloring. By all means, color away, but don’t fall into the trap thinking this is stress therapy you’re going into. There is nothing wrong with having time off—each of us has his/her own way of doing so: watching television, reading, and now, coloring. Time-outs, not just coloring, as a whole have a positive effect on any stressed or overworked person. We all need a break every now and then, after all.


Banner photo from www.brit.co.

Written by KM Viray

Government employee from 8 to 5. Writer in between hours. Mom all day everyday.

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