I first became aware of the adult coloring phenomenon five years ago when presenting a workshop at a senior center on how creating art can reduce nervous tension and aid in emotional expression. Much to my delight, one of the workshop participants shared how she had recently joined an online adult coloring group made up of people she knew – the group had close to one-hundred members. Group members were engaging in coloring for relaxation and stress relief. As it turned out, more than half of the other 26 workshop participants also did weekly coloring activities as a way to - as one workshop participant put it - “refresh my brain by giving it a mini vacation every day.”

Since that workshop, I have been recommending coloring to adults of all ages as a way to relax and refocus the mind when experiencing stress due to grief and loss. As we continue to shelter-in during the COVID-19 pandemic, I have also been recommending coloring in adult coloring books or in a freehand style as an effective tool for keeping COVID-19-related stress accumulation at bay. At a time when so many of us have a lot of time on our hands but are also cost-conscious, a practical benefit of coloring compared to some other home-based art and recreational activities is that coloring is relatively inexpensive, really requiring no more than a box of crayons and some paper or a coloring book. 

Coloring for adults has many benefits according to Beaumont Health in Michigan, the Cleveland Clinic and elsewhere. For example: 

  • Coloring can help to relax the amygdala, the fear-based part of the brain where stressful emotional memories are stored. Accessing relaxation through the activity of coloring gives the mind an opportunity to rest and refocus during challenging times.Coloring fosters positive mental focus by opening the part of the brain that controls problem-solving.
  • Coloring is a mindful activity providing a sense of timelessness – when engaged in colorings hours may go by that feel like mere minutes. This sense of timelessness, called flow, acts as a restorative for the body and mind. 
  • Coloring helps to improve motor skills and vision by requiring that the two hemispheres of the brain communicate more effectively.
  • Choosing colors helps to generate greater creativity.
  • Coloring before bedtime allows for a better night’s sleep by providing an electronic-free bedtime habit that does not disrupt the production of melatonin, a hormone necessary for sound and restful sleep.

Note: Remembering A Life has four, free downloadable coloring pages to get you started!

Getting Started

There is no wrong way to color. Drawing for stress and tension relief requires two things: something to draw on; and something to color with.

  1. Something to draw on. If you are cost-conscious, freehand drawing using computer or white multi-purpose paper may suit your creative needs. Coloring books for adults differ from books for children in that adult books tend to feature high quality paper and intricate – even complex – designs and themes such as mandalas, flowers, geometric patterns, nature scenes and more.  Costs can vary widely. Budget-friendly coloring books for beginners, as well as a wide variety of books for any budget can easily be found online at a variety of outlets.  
  2. Coloring implements.  A rainbow assortment (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet) plus black and white are enough of a color selection to get you started. If you prefer to draw within the lines, colored pencils (make sure to have a pencil sharpener), gel pens or art markers will offer you the control you are looking for. Otherwise, using crayons can be a great way to reconnect with the freedom of child-like expression experienced when you first learned to draw. Something to consider - both perfectionism and the need for control can be expressions of anxiety;  allowing for a bit of outside-the-lines drawing provided by crayons can help to loosen inner tension and anxiety. There are many options online for purchasing crayons, colored pencils and other drawing implements. 

As for drawing itself – again there is no wrong way to draw. Begin any project by picking up the color of crayon that most appeals to you on any given day or at any given time and allow that color to take you into the act of drawing itself or into a coloring book page.

A Freehand Exercise: Coloring Out Your Stress

Place a blank sheet of white multi-purpose paper and a box of eight or more crayons in front of you.

Place your hands, palms down, on the table top. Close your eyes and take a deep breath in… and now exhale slowly, releasing the tension in your body.

Picture the tension in your body and any stressful thoughts in your mind. If this stress were a color, what color might it be?

Open your eyes and select the color or colors of your stress from your box of crayons. Place the tip of a crayon anywhere on the paper and begin to move your hand and arm. Scribble out tension. It doesn’t matter what the scribbles look like, just allow the lines and shapes you are drawing to represent your stress and tension.

Feel the movement of your arm release stress and tension onto the paper. Feel the tension in your body move down your upper arm, lower arm, wrist and hand … through your fingers, and into the crayon. Imagine all the stress and tension of your day are held inside the crayon, and as the crayon touches the paper, all your tension, stress and worries are left behind on the page. Keep moving the crayon across the page. Feel free to change colors, or use more than one crayon at the same time; if it feels right to you, draw with both hands. Keep moving, filling the paper with marks, shapes and lines. As you do this, feel tension draining out of your body and onto the paper.

Continue to draw until you feel more relaxed or until what you see on the paper feels done, complete.