Adult colouring books are everywhere at the moment. They are a massive trend and in fact 2016 was the first year in four years that there has been a rise in the sales of printed books – partly down to the sale of adult colouring books. Colouring books can be procured on all subjects: Sherlock, sleep, animals, mandalas, tattoos, candy skulls, dinosaurs, patterns, swear words – the list is endless. If you’re interested in it, you can colour it in some form. Many of these books are marketed as being calming or relaxing in some way.

Why it might be relaxing:

  • Art therapy has long been recognised as a way to help people who are struggling with mental health difficulties be able to express themselves. This applies to many different forms of stress – one study found that people diagnosed with cancer reported a significant reduction in their reported levels of stress after engaging with with art therapy. Whilst colouring books wouldn’t necessarily be considered art therapy, it may be a way to encourage one to engage with their creative side.
  • Whilst completing creative tasks can be rewarding, it can also be daunting. Colouring books give people a base to start from – which when you’re feeling stressed can be a bit easier to face than a blank page.
  • Concentration on a specific task can centre us in the present moment and distract us from our worries. Arguably the more intricate something is the more it can absorb your attention.
  • Engaging in a task like colouring can be considered quite childish – not always a bad thing when it comes to relaxation – it can temporarily take us away from the stresses of being real humans.
  • Engaging in creative activities can be satisfying and rewarding.
  • The imagery in these books is often positive. This brings the mind’s attention to more pleasant things rather than the negative worrying imagery that our brains can wander into.
  • The fact that they are being advertised as such might suggest they are a relaxing or stress relieving past time.

If you want to read a little more on this the following is a really clear article on it: The Therapeutic Science Of Adult Coloring Books: How This Childhood Pastime Helps Adults Relieve Stress

Also I stumbled across this blog from a young lady with an anxiety disorder who reviews adult colouring books which is worth checking out if you’d like to know more: Colouring in the Midst of Madnessgiftree

I have quite a few adult colouring books lying around. The ones I like the most aesthetically I’ve found are the Millie Marrotta ones, I have both Animal Kingdom and Wild Savannah. I spent a while looking through them and chose a picture that I liked – this one actually spans two pages so could be expanded on in the future. A big plus about these books is that they include sections with less detail to encourage you to add your own details, which although I haven’t done here, I really approve of.

One thing I did find about this week is that it was more difficult to motivate myself to colour than it was to have a bath (last week’s relaxation scheme). With the job hunt starting to get a little grating, I have had a couple of days recently that I could use a lift in my mood and something to calm me down. But being already in a negative mindset, I did find this a big barrier to starting this activity.

Once I shook myself up and actually started it, I did find this activity soothing. I got all my pens together (satisfying in itself) and got comfy in bed with something innocuous on in the background. I found that my mind cleared and I could focus just on making sure each colour was in the right place and staying within the lines (harder than it seems in more intricate designs like Millie Marrotta’s).

So I coloured and I coloured and I coloured. Each little leaf, each drop of rain, each piece of bark. Colouring colouring colouring.

I sat down to do this in several different sessions over the week. The first one was around 3 hours long. Overall, I would say I spent 6 hours doing the above page. And I found that, for me, it had mixed results. Let me start by saying at no point did it make me more stressed. I’m not so precious that if I accidentally let two sections of the same colour touch, or strayed outside of the lines that this caused me stress. However, I did find it somewhat frustrating that I needed to spend so much time on one design. Although I was pleased with how it looked by the end, I did get the feeling that if I had spent this time creating my own design from scratch I would have been more pleased with the outcome. This however, is likely to be entirely my own preference. For people who don’t enjoy drawing I imagine that being tasked with making their own relaxing design from scratch wouldn’t be particularly pleasant or fulfilling.

On the plus side, I did find that completing such an intricate design gave my eyes a fatigued feeling which made me want to curl up and sleep which was relaxing. The design did also completely absorb my attention and take my mind away from other things. It looked lovely when it was finished too. I have at times felt very stunted creatively which can make me quite irritable and I feel that in this time colouring would be the perfect activity, as it would be creative but without too much pressure on myself. Overall, I would say this is quite a relaxing activity, and relatively easy to achieve with a basic set of pens or pencils. It was just a little time consuming for my taste.

More practical: For relaxation purposes I think I prefer the more simple patterns featured in books like The Mindfulness Colouring Book: Anti-stress art therapy for busy people by Emma Farrarons (see below). These often feature really repetitive patterns which do not take as much attention. This, for me, works better if you’re already in a low mood. Also they can be completed in one or two shorter sittings, perhaps I would try this before going to bed to capitalise on how tired it makes my eyes. Also you can get smaller copies of different colouring books which can fit into your bag which might make a nice calming activity on a train journey/lunch break rather than an activity you need to put aside time or materials for.

More relaxing: There are versions of these books available which claim to be related to CBT techniques. I haven’t personally used any of these but if you wanted to try a more therapeutic version that encourages you to think about your behaviour and thoughts then this might be a possibility. However I haven’t tried it and would always recommend treating things like that with a healthy dose of cynicism. If you didn’t want to go down that road I have seen books advertised which have words related to sleep for those who struggle with insomnia to aid with getting to sleep. Other than that I don’t think there’s much that could be done to make this a more relaxing activity. It really depends on your preference and I would recommend choosing a subject matter that interests you the most, as you’ll be more motivated to do this.

Relaxation: 4/10 (with the possibility of being 5/10 for a less intricate and time consuming design)

Wild Savannah colouring book
Mindfulness colouring book
The Therapeutic Science Of Adult Coloring Books: How This Childhood Pastime Helps Adults Relieve Stress
Colouring in the Midst of Madness

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