Health Benefits of Adult Coloring Books

The health and brain benefits of adult coloring books

Adult coloring books are all the rage right now. In fact, many of the popular ones are the best sellers in their respective categories on Amazon (in fact, 1/3 of the top 15 best sellers in all categories are coloring books!). Turns out there are some health and psychological benefits of coloring, a fact that children may instinctively know (like so many other life lessons we should learn from our kids!).

Most children naturally love to draw and color and we actively encourage this in our children. Yet, sometime around “real school” age, we stop encouraging creative activities like coloring and drawing and instead encourage more structured academic activities. By adulthood, the idea of cracking open a coloring book seems almost laughable… except that researchers have been studying the benefits of this classic childhood activity for adults for over a decade.

Benefits of Adult Coloring Books?

It might seem crazy that something as simple as a coloring book could actually be beneficial, but research continually supports this idea. In fact, researchers have known for over 100 years the benefits of coloring on the adult brain and famous psychiatrists throughout history (including Carl Jung) have recommended it to their patients.

Stress Relief

Coloring has been shown to have stress-reducing benefits. The reason? Coloring is said to calm the amygdala, the part of the brain related to the fear/stress response while stimulating the parts of the brain responsible for creativity and logic. A 2005 study documented a reduction in anxiety in subjects after a short time of coloring geometric patterns.

In fact, coloring therapy is being used experimentally for those with anxiety and stress related disorders. Some people report sleeping better when coloring for even 5 minutes before bedtime.

Focus and Creativity

There’s a reason that adult coloring books are becoming a favorite among high-profile business professionals in high-stress industries and creative professionals. There is evidence that even a short coloring session can help improve focus and spur creativity. Some offices are even making time for group coloring sessions for employees as a way to improve group focus and creativity during big projects.

While we may think of group coloring time as an activity for pre-schoolers, high-profile executives are joining the trend!

Social Time

Group coloring time is becoming an increasingly popular activity in many places as clubs and social groups pop up to facilitate it. Even in my own small town, the library is hosting adult coloring sessions and I’ve seen several Mom’s Night Outs that advertise “Coloring and Wine” (count me in!).

While coloring does take focus and promotes relaxation, it isn’t such a difficult activity that it can’t be done while talking or spending time with others, making it an increasingly popular group activity. If you have kids, this is a fun activity that you can do with them!

Alternative to Meditation

The psychological benefits of prayer and meditation have been well studied, but many people find it difficult to “turn-off” and calm the mind. Coloring and other hands-on activities offer an alternative because they allow you to “do” something without the need for active concentration. In studies, activities like coloring are able to produce a similar effect to meditation in the brain.

Benefits Aren’t Specific to Just Coloring

It is important to note that while coloring is a fun activity for many children and adults, it certainly isn’t the only creative activity with these benefits. Music, drawing, crafts and even home repairs (if you enjoy them) were found to be meditative and therapeutic. Knitting has also been studied for its ability to lessen depression and anxiety.

I’ve personally always noticed the same effects from other types of creative activities like painting, drawing, and DIY projects but can see how coloring can be even more relaxing as there is no need to create anything from scratch and the ability to follow a pattern and template removes some of the need for active thought.

Adult Coloring Books: How To

I was surprised to find hundreds of options when I started looking at adult coloring books, as well as dozens of opinions about the “right” way to color them (reading the reviews/comments on adult coloring books is not stress relieving!).

I ended up ordering several books (including one that was on the best seller list) and a pack of colored pencils. Since adult coloring pages tend to be much smaller and more detailed than the coloring books of childhood, I would definitely suggest colored pencils or very fine tip markers over crayons or regular markers.

This has become my favorite book, since the quotes are inspirational and can be used for decoration when you are done coloring them, but there are different types of coloring books for every interest and preference (including animal patterns, geometric shapes and patterns, any many others.

Bottom Line

Though coloring therapy is being used experimentally for those with PTSD, anxiety and other stress-related disorders, it isn’t a substitute for regular therapy or consulting with a qualified professional. Despite its hype, it probably also won’t be a magic fix for any health or stress-related problem.

It is, however, a fun and relaxing activity and an inexpensive way to relax, de-stress and spend some time with friends or your kids. Since it may help sleep, focus, and creativity, I figured a $6 book was worth a try!

Do you have adult coloring books? Ever tried coloring for relaxation?

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Reader Comments

  1. ironically they have banned coloring books from schools

    • I think that was more to help boost creativity b/c I’ve read about younger kids saying they couldn’t draw b/c they were comparing themselves to adult-drawn coloring books. The idea was that by just having the kids draw, they wouldn’t have that worry & be more creative. That’s the simplified version.

      We went through a period of that at home when my girl was younger. I removed our coloring books for awhile and daughter started drawing again on her own! Now we are back to doing both and she loves when I sit and color with her or draw with her!

      • That explains it. Totally makes sense. 🙂 Thanks dear.

  2. I’ve jumped on the bandwagon – there are so many beautiful coloring books out there, I am amazed at the talented artists I’ve seen! I’ve also been able to find many free coloring pages uploaded on the internet too (some as samples for books), for a more affordable option, if someone can’t quite bring themselves to pay for a book. Although I wholeheartedly think it’s worth the splurge!

  3. A Book Club what a great idea! But beware of too much wine drinking when meeting … Just might go over the line!

  4. I got hooked by some of the amazing designs I saw in the books. And I love some of the fun books too like Harry Potter! My friend gave my daughter a set of Prismacolor pencils and a book of her own. They just glide! They are amazing. I had bought another brand and they are nice but ooooh, I have to borrow my daughter’s every so often b/c they really make a difference! Gel pens are fun too but more for detailed areas.

  5. I started with Johanna Basford’s “Secret Garden”. Being new to adult coloring, I got intimidated by it because it is too detailed and intricate. I bought a new book instead, a mandala book called: RELAX by Viktoria A. The author gave a lot of freebies and free coloring pages. I color 30 minutes – 1hr everyday to de-clutter my thoughts. And honestly, I feel better each time.

  6. I had my own set of crayons and my own coloring book which Mommy did not share. I had three boys one of whom was special needs and was on a very detailed special diet. I very much enjoyed the benefits of my coloring time.

  7. I used to color with my girls when they were little and I think I liked it more than they did. However, when I look at these new coloring books and all the intricate detail I get really stressed out! I think I will just go over to the 99 cent store and buy a kids book and some crayons!

    • I’m with you, Patti! I’ve examined several adult books, but just looking at the small, detailed patterns makes me dizzy and causes instant eye strain and nausea. Those types of patterns are too stimulating for me. I think it’s similar to the flashing lights in Japanese cartoons that cause so many Japanese children to have epileptic seizures. I’ll have to stick with the simple, low key patterns!

  8. I have always loved adult coloring books! My local library has lots of adult coloring books and colored pencils out for anyone to use, which I think is great for de-stressing and taking the time to just enjoy time for yourself.

  9. Coloring and drawing is definately a form of therapy. I started coloring right after the earthquake in Haiti. It was a way for me to cope with the tradegy. Six years later its part of my life still. Nice article!

  10. I can attest to the calming and focusing affects of coloring. I have PTSD and I am Bi-Polar and I use this all the time to center myself when I’m feeling overwhelmed.

  11. Before “adult” coloring books came out, my mother used our old kids coloring books to take her mind off her cancer. She said it was what got her through each day and it must have helped keep the stress level down enough for her body to heal because she is now cancer free so I t is great to see books that are made for the more “mature” fans.

  12. Interesting post! When I was in the hospital almost 10 years ago with cancer (surgically removed — all gone now!) I spent quite a while recouperating at home. As I have worked most of my life, you can imagine how bored I was getting. That is, until my husband bought me some crossword puzzle books and some adult colouring books! I have always loved puzzles, but hadn’t done colouring since I was a child and was a bit surprised. But he said, give it a go, if you don’t like it, we’ll donate them. I was even more surprised when I started colouring. It was restful and absorbing at the same time. I had geography, botany, and a few others. When I would get bored of the crosswords, I would switch to the colouring. Because they use different sides of the brain, one gave me a break from the other, and I was happily employed with these for most of each day (between meds, temperature taking, etc. etc.). I still love colouring now (at 62 years old) and am so glad my husband took a chance on getting them for me!

  13. I have been coloring and do find it to be such a relaxing activity ! I have the very same coloring book you said was your favorite, Katie. Love the inspirational coloring pages in it. I have many friends who have picked up coloring now and are also enjoying it. I have also seen devotional Bibles that people are coloring..but don’t yet own one myself. Keep coloring everyone !

  14. Great news. I have always enjoyed coloring. Even have some nice pencils but never know what to do with them as I am not artistic enough to draw. Checked out ‘your favorite book’ and will purchase that. The butterflies and flowers look beautiful and fun too so will get that too. A nice break from Sudoku and I do believe it is calming too. Can’t wait to get them.

  15. My grandson and I love doing crafts together. So for Christmas I asked for adult coloring books with scripture and jel pens, my mother-in-law did not know there was such a thing. Needless to say we love coloring and talking. We will use the pages to frame and give as gifts. He fusses that MeMe colors faster than him! For the comments about being too detailed just focus and do a small section at a time starting with a corner. Love them!

  16. Have you ever tri d the hundreds of coloring books through Dover Publications? They are amazing!

  17. My husband and I each got a few coloring books and have tried different coloring pencils. We find it very relaxing as we usually color while sitting out in the sunroom. We tried using colored pens but find that erasers will not work if you color outside the lines. We like using the various types of pencils – Prismacolor, Sargent and Blick.

  18. It is amazing – when I first started seeing them I thought it was silly. But then I picked up one and it was pretty and thought ok I’ll try it. It is the most relaxing thing I have ever done. I usually color in the late evening and I seem to sleep better on those nights and am more cheerful and energetic the next morning. Love it…

  19. I’ve always loved coloring – awesome to see there is science behind it now. Thanks for sharing this!

  20. Thanks for this great article. I discovered the joy of adult coloring books about 3 months ago. I was standing at a till at our local shop and saw a kids coloring book. I joked to my son that I would love to get a book and color in again but felt that it was stupid because I was already an adult. Well imagine my surprise when about a week later I saw an adult coloring book at another shop by a bunch of magazines!

    My husband bought me a couple of books and a lot of crayons and I have thoroughly enjoyed myself with my new hobby. I do find it very relaxing, especially when I am stressed or before going to bed at night. Often just 15 minutes helps me feel good again.

  21. I picked up one called “the Word in Color” (biblical inspiration) from the wholesale club store. Love it! Even has bookmarks and little cards and tags to colour. But beware, using sub par coloured pencils that break all the time will increase, not reduce, stress…

  22. I bought my very first coloring book (well at least in years) just yesterday. I had been bulking at the idea but than found one based in scripture and fell in love.
    So relaxing.

  23. After suffering a chronic medical condition, I developed panic attacks. I took 18 x 11 paper and created my own coloured posters with a specific quote. Planning and colouring these has been a real joy since last summer!! Panic attacks are leaving me alone and I feel less stressed!!!

  24. I recently received a travel-themed adult coloring book in a giveaway, and I am now hooked. I deal with anxiety on a daily basis, and this has really been great with helping me to “de-stress.” I can’t wait to take it with me on my travels. 🙂

  25. I love this! I got one of these for Easter and it’s the ultimate calming activity. Who knew adult coloring books would be beautiful and ease stress!

  26. try this great set !!
    48 colored pencils+canvas bag+secret garden book: http://amzn.to/1sxw4h6

  27. Coloring books for adults are more and more popular and I think that this field we’ll keep growing. Many adults love to color their coloring pages to take some rest and put aside their thoughts/tasks/obligations. We are used to think that coloring books are made for children, in fact they are more useful to the adults thanks to their relaxing virtues. Plus, it seems to be a good treatment agains certain diseases, as you spend your time focused on your drawing and expressing your creativity.

    Very interesting article ! 🙂

  28. I love coloring 🙂 I especially loved it when I was pregnant, it was so relaxing and allowed me to take some time for myself to be quiet.
    All the best,
    Andrea

  29. Human well-being is all about that, making specific changes in your daily/weekly routine to gradually benefit your mind and body. Modern psychology knew about that for a while – https://www.ted.com/talks/mihaly_csikszentmihalyi_on_flow
    It is not necessarily about overcoming yourself or doing something particularly dramatic.
    The same is with fitness, nutrition etc. And, of course, children are still going to benefit from coloring pages like these – http://colorkid.net/coloring-pages-new-years-day-and-christmas/coloring-pages-costume-party-outfits Or you can find something fancier, more modern.
    It could be an important first step to stimulating their own creativity, even if it seems pretty pre-programmed at first.