Adult coloring books are everywhere now a days and you have to wonder….what’s up with all that?
It may be fun for some but the number of adult coloring books sheer magnitude, an astonishing 5 of the top 15 best-selling books on Amazon, makes you wonder if there may be more to them than “simply coloring”. Are there healing possibilities contained within the pages of those intricate line drawings, or are they simply another trendy activity?
The answer may surprise you…
Let’s start with the answer applicable to those of us living in chronic pain and then “pan out” to look at the bigger picture.
There is plenty of evidence that distraction, of whatever sort and origin, obviously within reason, is a powerful coping skill for those in chronic pain according to, amongst others, several studies out of the National Institutes of Health (NCBI) and the American Psychological Association who state, in reference to learning to live with chronic pain,
“Distracting yourself from your pain by engaging in activities you enjoy will help you highlight the positive aspects of your life…Consider finding a hobby or a pastime that makes you feel good and helps you connect with family, friends or other people via your local community groups or the Internet.”
In particularly for those who suffer from high-impact chronic pain a study from NCBI demonstrated “significantly impaired performance on attentionally demanding tasks” so in other words, coloring may be just the ticket, as they are of low-cognitive demand, and there is little skill involved besides “staying in the lines” and wrestling with such choices as pink or purple.
One runs into problems though when you go looking for reasons to explain the grocery store proliferation of adult coloring books. You’ll immediately come across two things: either lots of articles stemming from the publishers themselves or articles trying to tie coloring books into the research associated with art therapy and/or meditation and mindfulness.
According to the American Art Therapy Association, art therapy is, within the medical community, a form of mental health therapy that is based upon and utilizes the process of making and creating artwork to “explore feelings, reconcile emotional conflicts, foster self-awareness, manage behavior and addictions, develop social skills, improve reality orientation, reduce anxiety and increase self-esteem.”
Making and creating art (painting, drawing, sculpting, playing music, writing poetry, etc.) is a world away from coloring in another’s artwork. The brain processes called upon to create art are complex, rich and deep according to the Stanford University.
Others describe the coloring book process as “meditative,” “mindful,” and “spiritual” to explain their benefits but, according to Dr. Cathy Malchiodi in Psychology Today ,
“Coloring is not mindfulness…or a form of meditation. The fact that the concepts of meditation and mindfulness are being used to describe coloring pre-made designs is, in fact, insulting to these practices that have deep cultural, and spiritual foundations… Until proven otherwise, your coloring book is not an autopilot to a mindfulness or meditative experience.”
So although adult coloring book enthusiasts may find coloring to be a form of personal satisfaction through distraction, diversion, stress release and self-soothing it is wise to keep in mind that, without further research, they are in fact simply mind-numbing escapes from the here-and-now. And in our ever busy world, perhaps that is all the reason or praise needed to carry on. Can you hand me the Crayolas please?