Constitutional Health Network:
This Stress-Busting Craze is More than Just a Fad

I know. "Stress-busting" and "craze" really don't belong in the same sentence. Yet together they're the perfect description of a phenomenon that's sweeping the country.

From cities to small towns, people are getting together in coffee shops, public libraries, and any other quiet and comfortable place where they can spend an hour or two. They gather in groups of four or five, fifteen, maybe even twenty-six or -seven. Some meet daily, some only weekly or monthly.

The members come prepared — they're equipped with colored pencils, gel pens, and magic markers. Some even sport old-fashioned wax crayons. And they all carry coloring books. No, they're not coming for a children's day at the library, and they're not taking their kids or grandkids on a playdate.

These people are members of adult coloring groups.

That's right. Coloring, as in old-fashioned Crayolas and cheesy pictures printed on rough newsprint. The quiet rainy-day pastime most of us engaged in when we were kids — before the advent of video games, 24-hour television and Facebook.

Coloring is making a comeback. And this time it has a twist.

Coloring for grown-ups: it's more than just nostalgia

Walk into nearly any book store today, and somewhere near the entrance, in a very prominent location, you'll find stacks of coloring books. They're printed on nicer paper than the old stand-bys we remember. There designs are intricate, not simple drawings bounded by thick black lines.

They have titles like Color Me Calm and Creative Haven Dream Doodles. You'll find A Secret Garden and Mystical Mandala Coloring Book. Here and there you'll even see titles like The Sweary Coloring Book, which is exactly what it sounds like. Whatever the theme, they all have one thing in common: they're intended for adults, not children.

Grown-up coloring books have been a hot item for a couple of years, and they're getting more popular all the time. It's easy to dismiss this phenomenon as nothing more than nostalgia, just one more manifestation of the younger generation's refusal to grow up and accept adult responsibility. But there's more to it than that.

It doesn't matter if you're filling in an intricate scene like those in A Secret Garden or shading the standard kid-issue coloring book. The act of coloring is at heart a form of meditation.The current crop of adult coloring books — some in their eighth or ninth printing, with millions of copies sold — are primarily marketed as a stress-reduction tool, and there's a good reason for that. Coloring fosters mindfulness.And mindfulness is a powerful tool for reducing stress and anxiety.

The beauty of coloring, as opposed to a formal or traditional mindfulness practice, is that it's very non-threatening. It doesn't have the word "meditation" attached to it — a word that's very intimidating to some people. It's very accessible — after all, every one of us colored when we were kids.Because of this, there are now thousands of people out there sitting down in groups at the library, or in front of the television, or alone at their kitchen table, and practicing a simple version of meditation without even realizing it.

When you color, you're rooted in the present moment. Your focus is on the feel of the paper under your hand, the marker or pencil between your fingers. Without any conscious effort, you're attuned to the pressure needed to make your color darker or lighter, or to the motion of your hand. Coloring is the epitome of mindfulness. And it's effortless. But does it actually relieve stress?

Do all those "color me stress-free" color books really reduce stress?

Needless to say, there hasn't been a lot of formal study of the question, although psychology pioneer Carl Jung prescribed coloring for his patients. However, the studies that have been done underscore what the people who are actually coloring report — that coloring sessions do decrease stress and anxiety levels. Coloring causes actual physical changes, in heart rate, blood pressure, and brain waves. Coloring even improves your ability to focus.

For some people, the benefits may extend beyond stress reduction, too. Coloring allows those of us who aren't artistically talented or inclined to crafts to express ourselves creatively. It leaves us with a feeling of accomplishment, and boosts our self-esteem.

If the idea of grabbing a box of Crayolas and your grandson's X-Men coloring book seems a little silly, relax. You don't have to run out and buy a coloring book right off the bat. There are hundreds of wonderful printable coloring pages available online. Pinterest is a treasure trove of pages to color, but a simple Google search for "adult coloring page" turns up a nearly endless supply.

So the next time you're feeling scattered and overwhelmed, give it a shot. Grab a box of colored pencils or markers, print yourself something beautiful, pour yourself a cup of tea, and start coloring. Your brain will thank you.

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