Colouring books have long been associated with children, and yet, over the past few years, more and more adults have started taking up this age-old hobby. Proponents of this trend say that colouring offers adults a lot more than just a fun afternoon and can benefit our mental health, while critics say that this is nothing more than wishful thinking. In this blog, we will examine some of the theories as to how adult colouring books can help keep us mentally fit.
From cancer patients undergoing treatment to veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, art has long been a means of expressing emotions during times of ill health. Study after study, year after year, have demonstrated clear links between art as a form of therapy and a patient’s recovery. In the same way that speaking about our problems to other people will benefit us more than keeping them to ourselves, creating art allows people to express their deepest and most troubling emotions. Just one hour of making art has been shown to significantly reduce both mental and physical discomfort.
Critics say that this benefit does not extend to adult colouring books, as people are merely filling in pictures that somebody else has created, while those who believe in the therapy say that it is a stepping stone to creating art for those who are not so naturally talented in that department.
Whether a person has a mental or physical health issue, there are a number of difficult themes that commonly run through various conditions. Stress, anxiety, boredom, and depression are all very common side-effects of being ill. This can leave people feeling isolated, and unaccomplished. Adult colouring books address these issues by providing people with a clear goal, but one that takes time, effort, and determination to accomplish. The intricate designs of these drawings will force people, consciously or subconsciously, to focus their attention on something other than the issues they have in life at the moment. As the picture gradually begins to become fuller and fuller, patients can see a physical representation of their time and effort, with something to show at the end of it.
Turning our attention to something as innocuous as colouring engages our amygdala, which is the section of our brain responsible for fear. Without attention so focused on correctly colouring in between tiny lines, our brains unwillingly realise that we are in no danger. For patients with conditions such as PTSD or anxiety, this is crucial, as many of their issues will stem from the amygdala, making this a very effective therapy option.
The amygdala is far from the only part of the brain that is engaged during this activity. In fact, colouring books utilise many of the major sections of our brains in both the left and right hemispheres. Focus, problem solving, organisation, aesthetics, colour balance, and even fine motor skills. Although ‘colouring’ may make it sound like an easy activity that allows the brain some time to tune out, it is in reality the fact that we need so much of our brains to carry out this deceptively simple task that makes it so beneficial.
When it comes to mental and physical health, there will always be fads and ideas that are much ado about nothing. But not all new ideas should be dismissed as silly or outlandish. The trend of adult colouring is still in its infancy, so there are not many studies that have truly examined its effects. But in a world where the medical science is now using pigeons to detect cancer, and memory erasure is becoming a reality, is the idea that colouring could make people happy really that unconventional?