Coping Through Coloring

Coping Through Coloring

A few years ago, adult coloring books became the rage coming in at one of the top ten holiday gifts several seasons in a row. Today, many still swear by its healing effects and there are studies that say the same. Adult coloring is not new as Carl Jung, renowned psychologist, recommended it to his patients as a self-calming tool.

Going back to the simplicity of a childhood activity like coloring is an opportunity to carve out a short or long break with yourself. It is something you can do to escape beyond other pressing matters that may not seem so pressing after finishing your colorful design.

Yoga for the Mind

Sure, you may play a very challenging game on your electronic device that lights up your brain but coloring has a different effect. It combines a tangible application beyond the static swipes and taps of a cell phone game and instead uses easy, gliding strokes along with a visual hue of your choice.

Craig Sawchuk, clinical psychologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., comments to the Washington Post, that the effect of coloring is,

“almost like a volume knob to turn down the sympathetic nervous system, the stress response.”

Sawchuk compares the anti-anxiety and systemic reactions from coloring, such as heart rate regulation and calming respiration, to the same response the body has when it experiences yoga and meditation.

Quell Demons

Coloring might help when life stresses get a little too close for comfort and it may also help with tackling chronic demons, like post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

According to the US Department of Veteran Affairs,

“PTSD is a mental health problem that some people develop after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event, like combat, a natural disaster, a car accident, or sexual assault.”

Coloring offers a repetitive action that has shown to tamp down deep emotions affiliated with troubling past memories. By calming a part of the brain called the amygdala, coloring eases the high stakes fight or flight response and may reduce PTSD symptoms.

Erin Maynard, president of PTSD Survivors of America comments,

“The problem is, that it’s the part of the brain that controls the fear response. PTSD is a disorder of memory storage and recall, and you fixate on these terrifying memories and they become ever present for you…Coloring actually reduces the activity of the amygdala, so that’s part of the reason that it helps calm you down.”

Coping through Coloring

Going through a stressful event could be less stressful if you use coloring to ease the way.  This was particularly shown by individuals struggling with a cancer diagnosis or treatment.

Researchers from Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia, PA published a study in Psycho-oncology that showed how art therapy (coloring is an art therapy tool) helped women with cancer cope.

“As compared to the control group, the MBAT [mindfulness-based art therapy] group demonstrated a significant decrease in symptoms of distress [] and significant improvements in key aspects of health-related quality of life []. This investigation of MBAT provides initial encouraging data that support a possible future role for the intervention as a psychosocial treatment option for cancer patients.”

Lift Up

Pulling yourself out of a funk can sometimes be harder than you imagined. Whether dealing with a breakup, job loss, or plain old blues that linger on, immersing yourself in an adult coloring book may help you evaporate the blues.

Chris Aiken, MD, an instructor in clinical psychiatry at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine and director of the Mood Treatment Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina said that

“depression is the opposite of creativity” and that coloring offers an activity that involves silence with structure rather than the deafening experience of silence alone. If you decide to lift the silence with background music it may even light up more pleasure centers of the brain which in turn may push your funk out of the way.

Taking time for yourself may be easier than you think and doing so could bring calming changes with big effects. Grab an adult coloring book or even a blank sheet of paper and let your creative flag fly