Why colouring isn’t just for kids.

It’s a quiet winter afternoon. The light falls softly on the colouring book. Crayons are scattered on the coffee table. Colours are spreading slowly across the mandala she’s colouring in.

Is this you? An adult involved in an activity we associate with children.

You are not alone. Colouring in has taken off in a big way amongst adults across the world, including highly stressed executives. The activity is being hailed as therapeutic for anxiety and stress and is even promoted by psychologists.

Psychologist and neuroscientist Dr Stan Rodski from Melbourne Australia has launched his own colouring books for his patients after noticing how children relax when they colour in. He was having difficulties with getting his corporate clients to practice relaxation techniques like breathing, meditation or yoga. He also conducted a number of research studies, measuring changes in heart rate and brainwaves that showed colouring in lead to positive neurological responses and improved executives’ ability to manage stress.

Does the kind of image you colour in matter? It seems that certain patterns are more conducive to reducing stress.

Dr Rodski favours patterns and shapes in his books rather than defined pictures or scenes. According to him, images that incorporate repetition, pattern and detail give the best results.

Colouring in mandalas seems to be especially effective in reducing stress levels. The symmetrical form of the mandala with its repeating patterns and complexity is said to bring about a state similar to meditation.

A study by Nancy A. Curry and Tim Kasser examined the effectiveness of different types of art activities in the reduction of anxiety and found that colouring in a mandala reduced anxiety levels of participants significantly.

Carl Jung practised drawing and painting mandalas for many years. He saw them as symbols of the Self. Having his patients create mandalas became one of the tools he used in his psychiatric practice.

So we have proof that colouring in, and specifically focusing on complicated patterns help us to relieve stress, to relax and forget about our woes, but why? Why is it such a huge hit with adults? Isn’t it also a bit silly? Grown men in suits sitting at their desks with colouring books and crayons? Are women having colouring in parties?

Is there a secret reward that keeps adults hooked on this childhood activity? Apart from the fact that that aspect might very well be why we enjoy it so much – we get to be kids again.

I think Julie Beck expresses the pleasing and rewarding effect of coloring in the best: “It takes a good while to color one of these things in completely—a few hours, I’d say—and there’s something very satisfying about watching the color slowly spread across the page, about seeing your thought and effort create a tangible, pretty thing at a reasonable, predictable pace. This rarely happens in life.”

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