How Colouring Can Combat Stress in Adults

During the summer I took some young members of my family to the touring Natural History Museum’s ‘Dino Jaws Exhibition’.

It was obviously aimed at kids but it was interesting for adults too, there was a three quarter life size Tyrannosaurus Rex, various ‘hands on’ exhibits, films about finding dinosaur skeletons, animatronic dinosaurs and there was even a pile of prehistoric poo.

The amusing part for me came at the end of the exhibition where there was a large seating area and kiddie sized seats grouped around small tables.  The tables had coloured pencils and piles of paper with dinosaur pictures to colour.   There was no sign of any children but there were quite a few mature adults, I’m talking grandparent age, rather awkwardly sat on the small seats, busy colouring in dinosaur pictures.  I had to smile.  Eventually my lot caught up with me and they sat down and began colouring.  I stopped reading my book (on my mobile) and decided I’d better show willing and join in.  I found it strangely relaxing and enjoyable.

In researching todays blog post about ways to combat stress, you can imagine my surprise when I discovered my experience was a technique recommended by psychologists.  

I found an article by Elena Santos in the Huffington Post in which she writes:-

“Colouring is an activity that we tend to associate with children. As we grow older, we put aside our crayons and coloured pencils in favour of more respectable writing utensils like pens and highlighters. However, it turns out colouring can be beneficial for adults — namely for its de-stressing power.

The practice generates wellness, quietness and also stimulates brain areas related to motor skills, the senses and creativity. In fact, publishers have lately been launching colouring books specifically for adults”

Apparently  One of the first psychologists to apply coloring as a relaxation technique was Carl G. Jüng in the early 20th century. He did this through mandalas: circular designs with concentric shapes similar to the Gothic churches’ rose windows. They have their origin in India.

“When colouring, we activate different areas of our two cerebral hemispheres, says psychologist Gloria Martínez Ayala. “

“The action involves both logic, by which we colour forms, and creativity, when mixing and matching colours. This incorporates the areas of the cerebral cortex involved in vision and fine motor skills [coordination necessary to make small, precise movements]. The relaxation that it provides lowers the activity of the amygdala, a basic part of our brain involved in controlling emotion that is affected by stress.”

“In simplest terms, colouring has a de-stressing effect because when we focus on a particular activity, we focus on it and not on our worries. But it also “brings out our imagination and takes us back to our childhood, a period in which we most certainly had a lot less stress.”

“I recommend it as a relaxation technique,” says psychologist Antoni Martínez. “We can use it to enter into a more creative, freer state,” he assures. We can also use it to connect with how we feel, since depending on our mood we choose different colours or intensity. “I myself have practiced that. I recommend it in a quiet environment, even with chill music. Let the colour and the lines flow.”

The article goes on to say that colouring books for adults are popular in the UK, I have to say it was the first I’d heard of them but when I went to check Amazon there were indeed lots of them.  Who’d have thought?

So now you know what to do with the graphic in this post – print it off, get your colouring pencils out (they’re a must apparently, felt tips won’t hack it) and chill for a while.  It’s my gift to you today 🙂

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Steve Greenhalgh - 14 October 2014 Reply

Love this … printed off and sitting here with my tongue sticking out in rapt concentration 😉

Ian Lloyd - 14 October 2014 Reply

Hi Chris. Love the article. I really enjoyed painting by numbers when I was younger …. perhaps I need to rekindle this enjoyment 🙂

Marc - 15 October 2014 Reply

Great post Chris, who doesn’t love colouring, it makes you relaxed.

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