Color Therapy: Why You Have Your Best Thoughts While Coloring
Here’s why coloring therapy can promote mindfulness, stress relief, and other mental benefits.
By Laura Newcomer
Most of us have our own list of favorite ways to take care of our bodies and overall health. We eat well (when self-control allows it), exercise when possible, and keep a stocked first aid kit on hand.
But when it comes to taking care of our mental health, tools like these are harder to come by. Outside of yoga or meditation, popular culture doesn’t really tout any strategies to help us calm our minds and improve thinking.
Luckily, the adult coloring craze is changing that. Coloring enthusiasts know the activity is a great way to boost their mood, and now there’s research to back up these claims. Turns out coloring can bolster your mental health and help with focus, learning, creativity, and problem solving. Here’s why everyone who wants to improve their thinking should add a stack of coloring books to their home’s first aid kit.
Coloring promotes mindfulness.
Coloring offers a number of mental benefits, which we’ll get to in a minute. But first, we’ve got to give credit for these benefits where it’s due. The various mental health effects of coloring stem from one overarching theme: Coloring promotes mindfulness.
Much like yoga and meditation, coloring can boost mindfulness by calming down the body and mind and making us feel relaxed. Plus, when you’re focusing on coloring, you’re absorbed in the present moment. (Being present is a major component of mindfulness.)
Of course, the attitudes you bring to the (coloring) table will impact the strength of these mindfulness-boosting effects. If you frantically scribble all over the page while multi-tasking several other projects, then coloring may not have a very calming effect. But if you approach coloring with the intention of being present and mindful, you’re more likely to reap the benefits.
Coloring frees your mind from negative thoughts.
Coloring has been shown to improve mental health symptoms in people dealing with anxiety, stress, PTSD, and a wide range of other mental health issues. This is probably because concentrating on coloring allows people to focus their attention on a positive, calming activity instead of on intrusive or anxiety-producing thoughts. As an added bonus, relaxed minds are more likely to be creative.
Coloring enables greater focus and concentration.
The act of coloring draws on parts of the brain that are responsible for focus, concentration, analysis, and organization. So when you sit down with a coloring page, you’re also giving these mental faculties a boost. In fact, many students and professionals now use coloring during lectures or conference calls in order to boost concentration. Coloring can also increase the odds that you’ll retain whatever you heard or learned while you were coloring. (Take that, old school teachers who frowned upon doodling during class!)
Coloring promotes creativity and problem-solving.
If you’re dealing with a challenge at work or in your personal life, coloring might help you brainstorm a solution. That’s because coloring draws on creative mental processes, says clinical psychologist and author Laurie Helgoe. Engaging in a creative pursuit can help us think more flexibly and creatively and make unexpected connections, helping us with problem solving.
Another way coloring encourages creativity is by allowing you to enter a state of “flow,” when you’re wholly absorbed in the present moment. (We promise it’s not as hippie-esque as it sounds.) When your mind “flowing,” your short- and long-term memories get a break. This frees up other parts of your brain to engage in creative thinking and problem solving. So it makes sense that people who color outside of work demonstrate improved performance when they’re on the job.
Coloring boosts learning.
More and more research points to the benefits of drawing in the classroom. Coloring has been shown to help students focus, retain and integrate new knowledge, organize their thoughts, improve memory, and increase the motivation to learn. (Phew! That’s a lot of benefits.) But students aren’t the only ones who can benefit from coloring. Adult hobbyists are likely to reap the same benefits.
Use this knowledge to your advantage by bringing along your coloring book whenever you’re attending a work meeting or a professional conference. Coloring will increase the odds of you learning and retaining any new information that’s presented. (Major bonus: It will also help keep boredom at bay.)
In light of these mental benefits of coloring, it’s no wonder therapists are increasingly “prescribing” coloring books to their patients. A host of thought-related benefits—from mindfulness to better learning and problem solving—await anyone who picks up their pencils and starts coloring.
Laura Newcomer is a freelance writer, editor, and marketing consultant whose work focuses on health and wellness, mental wellbeing, creativity, eco-friendly living, and entrepreneurship, among other topics. Her writing has appeared in or on TIME, Washington Post, Inc., Entrepreneur, Daily Burn, Huffington Post, and many other outlets. She resides in Colorado with her husband and cat.