Everyone is coloring these days—kids and adults, with crayons and colored pencils, in books and on cellphone apps. But is this trend of adult coloring just for fun, or are there also therapeutic benefits? Despite being a recently growing trend, there is already evidence that coloring is more than a mundane task that allows us to relive our childhoods.

In a 2006 study, mindfulness-based art therapy was found to help decrease the symptoms of distress and anxiety, both physical and emotional, during treatment of women with cancer. In fact, relieving anxiety is the most well-known reason coloring has soared to popularity. Feelings of anxiety are common, especially in countries like the United States and France, where, not-so-ironically, adult coloring has seen its biggest spikes in popularity.

 Adult Coloring Beneficial to Health

Coloring is a helpful coping tool for more than just women living with cancer. Many who find themselves spending long periods of time in treatment for chronic illnesses such as Crohn’s disease or those who have conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder have ‘overwhelmingly expressed comfort’ in the act of coloring. Why? Because participating in simple and mindless activities like coloring calms down our amygdala part of the brain, which keeps individuals in a state of worry or panic when active. However, a calming activity like coloring provides the amygdala, and the colorist, much needed rest.

Another benefit of coloring is the opportunity for socialization. Although coloring is usually an individual project, senior centers and nursing homes found when coloring books are placed on tables, the adults begin conversing about musicians, movies and memories as they work on their masterpieces. For those with elderly parents, whether acting as a full-time caregiver or just visiting, coloring is a great stress reliever..

Coloring also promotes sensory stimulation, coordination and memory recovery. When people pick colors and use the crayon or colored pencil, they are using the creative side of the brain, helping with cognitive and sensory development and maintenance. This makes it an excellent exercise for those recovering from a stroke, as it strengthens the pathways between the brain and the fingertips.

Coloring doesn’t only utilize the ‘creative side’ of the brain - focus, concentration and organization skills are functions that are controlled by the frontal lobe. Problem solving and fine motor skills are involved in choosing colors, identifying balance and applying the idea to the page. Because of the calming effects of the concentration involved, coloring has proven to be ideal for patients battling health issues like epilepsy, decreasing the occurrence of epileptic attacks. People living with epilepsy can enjoy an activity they may not have known they could due to the twitches often experienced as a common symptom of the disorder.

Everything about coloring can stimulate different senses that help recover memories, so it can be very helpful in Alzheimer’s and dementia patients as well. From smelling the crayons to using certain images, it can spark a pleasant childhood memory. And for many, coloring can be a ‘gateway’ craft that opens the doors to other, more difficult projects such as knitting or stained glass work.

Adult Coloring

There are some critics of adult coloring, like Susan Jacoby, author of The Age of American Unreason. In an interview with The New Yorker, Jacoby questioned whether the act of regressing into a child-like pattern is an unhealthy way for adults to avoid reality. Jacoby is also unsettled by the trend of American adults gravitating towards activities like coloring that require ‘minimal effort.’ 

If you plan to try adult coloring, make sure to assess the benefits it has for your and your loved ones. For some, the attention to detail is almost overwhelming, and the need to color in the lines, or make the picture ‘perfect’ is more stressful than helpful.    

There are currently more than 3,000 coloring books listed on Amazon, you can print out free online templates or you can try an app on your phone or computer like Colorfy. If you’d like to know more about adult coloring check out this list of resources:

Why Adult Coloring Books Are Good For You 
The Therapeutic Science Of Adult Coloring Books: How This Childhood Pastime Helps Adults Relieve Stress

By Maggie Cunningham