Feeling stressed, unfocused, dealing with anxiety, or even just bored? It might be time to pick up the crayons because colouring is no longer just for kids!
Colouring books have come back in a big way, making their way to the top of Australia’s bestsellers’ list in 2015 and the main consumers are not who you would expect. The adult colouring trend has seen adults across the country unzip their pencil cases for the first time in years, for the sake of their mental health.
Beyond Blue is an independent organisation that helps people who are suffering from depression and anxiety. The foundation raises awareness and understanding for mental health issues. Dr Luke Martin, the project manager of families, education, and gender for Beyond Blue told The Newsroom that he believes adult colouring books are an effective tool for managing stress.
“I think there is some merit in the idea of colouring in for stress reduction,” he said.
With concepts derived from art therapy, adult colouring books promote a state of mindfulness. A state in which one is aware or mindful of their surroundings. It focuses attention and concentration to the immediate surroundings, a specific task or point in time. Ample research supports that mindfulness is effective for stress and anxiety management and reduction. Dr Martin believes that adult colouring books are a helpful aid towards achieving this.
“We focus on the here and now [when colouring], and are not running off with emotion-triggering thoughts about the past or the future.”
Dr Martin explains that though there is little scientific evidence surrounding the benefits of colouring they can still be useful. “In the least, colouring-in books are a harmless way to take some time out from our busy lives and practise self-care,” he says.
From general enjoyment to achieving a calmer state of mind, the potential benefits of adult colouring are vast. Dr Martin shares with The Newsroom one particularly interesting theory on adult colouring.
Colouring in can prompt happy memories
“Colouring-in relates to the way it prompts feelings of nostalgia like happy memories from a person’s childhood and of a simpler life,” he says. “There is good research to suggest that inducing nostalgia is associated with lots of positive things, including feelings of warmth, positive mood, perceived ability to cope, and increases perceptions of social connectedness.”
Twenty-five-year-old Emma Mathieson, an insurance consultant from Geelong, uses colouring books three times a week and believes that they are a very effective tool in stress reduction.
“It’s super effective,” says Miss Mathieson, “all you have to think about is what colour you will use next.”
Miss Mathieson told The Newsroom that she prefers images of mandalas because “they are always different, but geometric shapes are fun too.” According to Dr Martin, mandalas are a compilation of patterns containing complicated geometric shapes and are likely to be more effective than other styles of colouring.
“Mandalas better engage the visual-spatial parts of our brain, which are also activated in anxiety, and directs that attention/activity to the colouring rather than our worries.” he said.
Dr Martin says users should understand clearly that colouring is not the same as art therapy nor adequately researched, thus should not be used independently to treat anxiety or stress.
“Colouring in is actually effective in dealing with stress and anxiety; and as such it should really be an add-on, or support, for more proven stress management strategies,” says Dr Martin.
Miss Mathieson described adult colouring as “relaxing and calming” and said that she would recommend it to others struggling with stress and anxiety.
However, Dr Martin says he would not recommend colouring to his patients with high levels of stress anxiety or depression as “it isn’t an evidence-based treatment”. Rather, he recommends that if a patient found it useful they can use it in conjunction with other treatments for stress management.
If it works for you, keep doing it
“If a patient personally found colouring in to be effective in helping manage their emotions, I’d certainly encourage them to keep doing it as one coping strategy amongst others they could use.” he said.
Dr Martin shared with The Newsroom his top tips for reducing stress and anxiety;
• It’s important to take steps to recognise and manage stress. Stress is a normal part of life but when it gets out of control or lasts too long, it can lead to more concerning problems with your mental health.
• Relaxation exercises, meditation or physical exercise can be helpful.
• Allow yourself enough time to do the things you need to do, including thinking through how to solve problems and try not to take on too much.
• Watch your self-talk. What you say to yourself in your head plays a big part in how you feel about your life and how you manage the demands it’s placing on you. Notice what you’re saying to yourself and thinking each day, decide whether this is a helpful or unhelpful way for you to think, and try to adopt more helpful self-talk.
• Avoid unhelpful ways of coping with stress, such as using alcohol or drugs.
For more information on how to handle stress and anxiety visit BeyondBlue. – Photo and story by Kaitlyn Wilson