The Art of Stress Management: Adult Coloring

Coloring isn’t just for kids. In fact it is a beneficial tool to help you de-stress. Art has been used in psychotherapy for decades and newer research is being done looking at the effect of art on stress management and chronic disease.

In a post by Psychology Today, an excellent summary of recent research was compiled:

  • Several studies demonstrate that art therapy enhances the psychosocial treatment of cancer, including decreased symptoms of distress, improved quality of life and perceptions of body image, reduction of pain perception, and general physical and psychological health (Monti et al, 2006; Nainis et al, 2002; Svensk et al, 2009).
  • Studies indicate a reduction of depression and fatigue levels in cancer patients on chemotherapy (Bar-Sela,et al, 2007).
  • Art therapy strengthens positive feelings, alleviates distress, and helps individuals to clarify existential questions for adult bone marrow transplant patients (Gabriel, Bromberg, Vandenbovenkamp, Kornblith, & Luzzato, 2001).
  • Research with children with cancer indicates that engaging in drawing and painting is an effective method for dealing with pain and other disturbing symptoms of illness and treatment (Rollins, 2005).
  • Research on art therapy with children with asthma indicates that it reduces anxiety, improves feelings of quality of life, and strengthens self-concept (Beebe, Gelfand, & Bender, 2010) (see Art Therapy and Health Care for more information).
  • Evidence indicates that art therapy and other creative arts therapies stimulate cognitive function in older adults who have dementia or related disorders (Levine-Madori, 2009) and may reduce depression in those with Parkinson’s disease (Elkis-Abuhoff et al, 2008).
  • Art making may reduce anxiety and stress reactions as measured by cortisol (Walsh et al, 2007).

If art can help promote well being in conditions like depression, anxiety, dementia, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and help people to cope with chronic disease such as cancer, then it most certainly could help you unwind from your day to day stress.

Adult coloring does not require you to be “an artist”.  In fact, according to Fortune, one of the hottest best sellers on Amazon in December 2015 was adult coloring books. It is a simple and therapeutic activity that involves coloring within the lines of an intricate coloring book to achieve a generally calming effect on the nervous system.

When we sit down to color the most complex decision is which color to pick and where to put it. We spend most of our waking day analyzing and problem solving. Coloring is an excellent way to interject a small amount of creativity into our day to help balance the left and right hemispheres of the brain and to help shift  your waking brain waves from active beta to resting alpha. Meditation and mind-body based therapies are also geared to help you make this essential shift from the sympathetic nervous system to the parasympathetic system. In my naturopathic medical practice I coach my patients to adopt exercises in mindfulness to help cope with stress and anxiety. In the beginning it is very challenging for people to switch gears. Coloring may provide as a stepping stone to help people be focused and relaxed in the here and now.

Now you have an excellent excuse to pull out those bright crayons, colored pencils or markers and cozy up with paisley print and go for it: Color and relax.


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