The Benefits of adult coloring books – Are they really effective?

It wouldn’t be too much to say that we have all been hearing more and more about adult coloring books in recent years. Even Google’s search term trends show that there was a sudden spike in searches for “adult coloring book” from 2014 onwards.

It is unclear why the interest grew so suddenly, but there’s no question about why adults have been interested in buying coloring books. It has become very clear that coloring is an activity that causes stress relief, and who of us is stress-free?

As we all try to find different ways to cope with the stressful rhythm of our societies, adult coloring books emerged. Most of us jumped at the opportunity to add a stress-relieving activity to our list of hobbies.

Adult coloring became more popular, and Amazon’s Bestseller lists were full of different types of coloring books. That’s when we started to hear more about the mental health benefits of adult coloring books. But what are these benefits, and do we have any actual evidence for them?

In this post, I will be listing the known benefits that adult coloring has. I will also be talking about the scientific research that supports these claims. Then you will see at the end, that coloring mandala patterns is even more effective than free-form coloring.

The hand of a person coloring a mandala design using a pink colored pencil

Known benefits of adult coloring

1. Relaxes Your Brain and Improves Brain Function

Coloring is a way for your body to relax. The fact that you are focused on a simple activity that is not goal-oriented, makes you feel less distress. There’s no pressure to achieve anything, so your mind is at ease.

Additionally, while you are coloring, your brain uses both the creative part and the logical part.

three woman coloring mandalas

2. Induces Meditative State and Reduces stress and anxiety

As you will see in the studies below, adult coloring can be very therapeutic, especially if you are coloring mandalas. It helps you enter a meditative state, which gives similar benefits to regular meditation.

The main factor is focusing on repetitive shapes, forms, and intricate designs. It distracts you from negative thoughts. This helps your mind slow down and your anxiety levels drop.

3. Improves Motor Skills

Coloring complex designs and small shapes trigger your hand-eye coordination and motor skills. Same as crossword puzzles and brainteasers. These are activities that are known to, and recommended for, delaying things like dementia.

What science says about the benefits of adult coloring and coloring Mandalas specifically

There have been several studies made to confirm the effect that adult coloring on anxiety and mental health in general. Most of these studies looked specifically at the effects of coloring mandalas. That’s because it has been widely viewed as having meditative qualities.

Initial Study: “Can Coloring Mandalas Reduce Anxiety?”

In 2005, an article was published in the Journal of the American Art Therapy Association. It presented the results of a study about whether coloring a mandala can reduce anxiety.

Curry and Kasser, the two scientists who conducted this experiment decided to test the effectiveness of art activities in the reduction of stress.

As they say in their paper, the experience of anxiety is very common in our societies. Anxiety levels have been increasing since the last half of the previous century. Thus, they found it necessary to study the ways in which it could be reduced.

At the time of the experiment, studies had been made to prove the effectiveness of both meditation and art therapy in the reduction of stress. Yet we had no proof of the effects that coloring had on it.

There had been suggestions that coloring symmetrical forms helps reduce anxiety. The main hypothesis was that coloring repetitive shapes makes you detach from your surroundings. This then leads you to go into a meditative state. The symmetry and repetition of shapes in mandalas was a perfect fit for this hypothesis. So they went on to test it.

The researchers took a group of 84 students and measured their anxiety levels at three different moments. At first, they measured it the moment the participants entered the room. Then they subjected them to an anxiety-inducing experience and measured their anxiety after it. Finally, they had them color for 20 minutes and measured their anxiety levels after that.

The coloring was not the same for all participants. Some participants had to color mandalas, others had to color a plaid pattern. The rest were given a blank paper on which they could color anything they wanted.

The anxiety levels increased after the anxiety-inducing experience.

They then measured the levels again after 20 minutes of coloring. They noticed that some participants had their anxiety levels lowered. It was the ones who had colored the mandala designs and those who colored the plaid designs. Their anxiety levels were as low as they were before the anxiety-inducing experiences.

Meanwhile, the participants who did free-form coloring saw no reduction in their anxiety levels.

This goes to prove that coloring mandalas, or plaid designs, reduces the anxiety levels of individuals. This also gives credibility to the hypothesis mentioned earlier. Coloring symmetrical and repetitive shapes has a meditative quality. That is why it helps in reducing stress levels.

Further Studies on the benefits of adult coloring

Further studies were made after that, all reaching almost the same conclusion. Some found that mandala designs were more effective than plaid designs. Other studies also found that coloring mandalas were effective on both state anxiety and trait anxiety. That was after only 30 minutes of coloring.

It must be noted that some studies found that even though coloring mandalas is proven to reduce stress and anxiety, it cannot be considered a substitute for therapy. A specific study showed that sessions with an art therapist had a wider range of effects on the general mood of the participants.

In Australia, Dr. Stan Rodski, a consulting neuropsychologist and neuroscientist, was having trouble getting some of his patients to achieve relaxation in the traditional ways. Some executives and managers came to him because they were suffering from stress. They couldn’t get themselves to practice deep breathing and meditation to achieve mindfulness.

So Dr. Rodski got inspired by looking at children while they colored. He then thought why can’t adults also reach the same state of mind as the children do while coloring.

He later found out that his patients were able to reach some levels of mindfulness through coloring shapes and patterns, which he says is better than coloring figurative forms. His argument for that is that adults tend to judge and criticize themselves a lot while coloring shapes they know. That is why coloring mandalas and geometric shapes are more efficient.

Dr. Rodski goes on to say that they have measured the heart rate and brainwaves of adults during coloring. The results were “amazing”, as they saw changes in heart rate and in brainwaves.

Conclusion

The benefits of adult coloring are clear. We’ve seen that science approves of this idea.

The question that follows would be how to take advantage of these benefits.

For me, it has been very helpful to integrate coloring mandalas into my daily life. It helps me reach a level of mindfulness that I otherwise struggle to achieve on my own.

Coloring the repetitive shapes and patterns makes my mind wander off and relax, as it anticipates the colors to be used. This anticipation reduces the pressure of having to decide what colors to choose for every shape.

I recommend that you get yourself an adult coloring book, and some colored pencils, and try coloring it yourself. This, apparently, is a great way to relieve stress and get rid of negative emotions.

Most importantly, make sure you don’t criticize yourself while coloring.

a mandala coloring book with a mandala design partially colored. On the opposite page there's the sentence "All colors are beautiful and meaningful"

There’s no right way to color. There’s no wrong way to color.

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