Last Christmas I unwrapped a colouring book and a pack of pencil crayons. The blank pages, full of intricate designs waiting to be brought to life, gave me a buzz that reminded me of childhood. The pencils lined up full of possibility. It was a lovely gift. But even as recently as a few years ago it would have been an odd one to give a 32-year-old woman. Not any more. Adult colouring books (that’s colouring books for adults!) are increasingly popular.
So how can they help?
Colouring is Calming
If you feel anxious a lot, colouring can help you feel calmer. When we colour we have to use both the logical left hemisphere (dealing with motor skills and attention) and the creative right, which uses colour, shape, imagery and emotion. If you are stressed, or have anxiety, you may find your body is often on high alert, responding to perceived threats with a fight or flight response. Using both sides of the brain calms the amygdala (the part of the brain that is related to our fear and stress response).
Colouring Helps Define Your Downtime
We all need time to unwind every now and again but, with the technology in our pockets, it can be increasingly difficult to step away from work, news and social updates. Setting aside some time to colour helps us to make sure we have a quality break and defines that time to ourselves and others.
Colouring Can Help You Sleep
The calming effects of colouring have helped many people unwind before bed and sleep better as a result. Good sleep hygiene means turning off electronics an hour or so before we turn in – but without something different to occupy us it can be hard to do. Building a bit of colouring into your evening routine may help you sleep. And if you wake in the night, a bit of gentle colouring can help you stay calm and drift back to sleep, which has to be better than lying awake worrying about not sleeping.
Colouring Moves Focus Away From Thoughts
Some people describe it as almost meditative. When you’re focusing on colouring, you are distracted from those automatic negative thoughts and spirals that many of us are all too familiar with (there’s lots more about how automatic thoughts can make us feel worse on my first Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy blog).
Colouring is Easy to Start
Creativity and crafting has lots of benefits for wellbeing – but they can be hard to start – a lot of people feel intimidated because they are ‘not creative people’. A colouring book means you are not staring at a blank page but can have a go quickly and easily.
It’s also easy to start in the moment. Some people have described using colouring to stave off panicky feelings. Unlike some more difficult, messy or technical crafts, the small task of picking up a coloured pencil and applying it to paper may feel manageable, even in times of high stress. And often, once you get started, you start to feel calmer and more able to carry on (some people call this ‘reverse motivation’).
Colouring is a Way Into Creation
Art therapies are a regulated form of therapy to help you understand yourself better. Although colouring isn’t usually part of art therapy, creating your own art can be. And if you’re feeling nervous about getting started, colouring is a good first step. Some colouring books include sections you can fill in yourself to add to the picture. As you get more used to the feel of the pens and brushes and the idea of creating art, you may start to feel more comfortable creating your own pieces.
Finally, there can be a real feeling of pride and achievement when you complete one of these complicated and intricate drawings. You might even like to buy a book with inspirational quotes to colour in so you can hang them up and keep benefitting even after you put the pencils away.
With adult colouring books having gained such popularity, there are books available to suit every taste, from flowers to Harry Potter and even the Great British Bake Off! However, if you’re stuck with where to start, here are 5 of my favourites: