Picture it. Travel back in time in your mind to when you were an elementary-schooler, to a time when the epitome of cool was having a Crayola 64-pack crayon set with the built-in sharpener. You could bring whole new worlds into existence, punctuated with splashes of Electric Lime, Laser Lemon and Mango Tango.

And if you were really lucky, you had some crazy fun coloring books too to jumpstart your imagination. Lisa Frank, anyone? As a child, I was an unrepentant coloring book enthusiast. No sooner had I worked my way through a book, then I was already on the hunt for the next one. But as I grew up, I thought that this childhood pastime was one I had outgrown.

Then a few years ago, adult coloring books emerged in full force, and my long-lost passion had returned. But what is it about the adult coloring book craze that has made it so popular? And does the activity have any therapeutic merit?

In short, yes. Specific research into the health and wellness benefits of adult coloring books is limited, due to the fact that is a relatively new phenomenon. But art therapy as a whole has been implemented in many places and in many forms with notable success.

According to an article published by the Cleveland Clinic and clinical psychologist Dr. Scott M. Bea, Psy.D., quoted in the publication, much of the positive results of using adult coloring books stems from its ability to refocus attention.

Much like a meditative exercise, the simple act of coloring turns your attention outward and away from internal stressors. It also helps to relax the brain. And the fact that it is low stakes, and therefore low pressure, it serves as a free creative outlet to express individuality without worrying about achieving some lofty goal.

In a study titled “Can Coloring Mandalas Reduce Anxiety?” published in the Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, researchers examine how coloring complex designs (in this case mandalas) could potentially reduce anxiety in a test group of undergraduate students.

The process proved quite fascinating and enlightening, as the Journal stated:

“84 undergraduate students were randomly assigned to color a mandala, to color a plaid form, or to color on a blank piece of paper. Results demonstrated that anxiety levels declined approximately the same for the mandala- and plaid-coloring groups and that both of these groups experienced more reduction in anxiety than did the unstructured-coloring group.

These findings suggest that structured coloring of a reasonably complex geometric pattern may induce a meditative state that benefits individuals suffering from anxiety.”

It is nice to hear that my new favorite self-care routine has at least some scientific merit, but like most self-care methods, it is important to note that it is not one-size-fits-all. Generally speaking, those that found comfort and joy from coloring as children are probably a bit more likely to gravitate to this form of art therapy then those that didn’t enjoy the activity as much as kids.

But fear not. There are so many simple and inexpensive types of art therapy exercises and activities to try. To get started, check out this list of 100 Art Therapy Exercises to Make Your Mind, Body and Spirit Sing by Fellowship Hall Drug and Alcohol Recovery Center.

These exercises are honestly great for anyone to refocus their emotions and attention to a more positive alignment. To get you started, I will include a few ideas outlined in the article.

  • Work on a softness project. Using only soft or comforting objects, create a work of art.
  • Create a calming collage. Choose images that you find soothing, calming or even meditative and combine them to create an attractive collage that can help you to relax.
  • Use natural materials. Leaves, sticks, dirt, clay and other natural materials can help you get in touch with the natural world.

So regardless of what art therapy exercises you ultimately decide to try, your mind and soul will thank you for the effort to bring peace into your life. And if your interest has sparked toward adult coloring books and you are wondering where to start, the marketplace is full of adult coloring books that fit every budget, taste and almost every possible theme you can imagine.

So grab some colored pencils and get to scribbling!


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Cleveland Clinic Article-

Study published by the Journal of the American Art Therapy Association

100 Art Therapy Exercises to Make Your Mind, Body and Spirit Sing by Fellowship Hall Drug and Alcohol Recovery Center.