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Why coloring reduce stress and boost creativity
Coloring was once an activity firmly in the realm of “things kids do”. However, today, more and more adults than ever before are picking up their coloring pencils and filling in page after page of adult coloring books. So, are coloring books good for adults? The answer is yes. Adults who use adult coloring books report a reduction in stress and a boost in creativity. And it’s not just anecdotal; scientific studies have proven it to be true!
The Case for Adult Coloring
Researchers at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) conducted two studies. They wanted to find out the psychological benefits of coloring and found some promising results.
The First Study
In the first study, researchers selected 47 first-year undergraduates (36 female and 11 male). The participants took multiple psychological tests at the start of the session. After taking part in one of two activities, reading or coloring. All participants had to complete both activities, but some did coloring first, and others did reading first. So, the psychological tests at the start of the session set a baseline for the starting mental state. The post-session psychological tests help determine what effect (if any) these activities had on altering the participants’ mental state.
The participants doing the reading first had to read a chapter on study skills. The coloring-first participants were tasked with coloring in a mandala.
After 20 minutes of coloring, participants reported:
- Higher contentedness
- Increased energy
- A calm or relaxed state.
- Higher levels of mindfulness (being ‘in the zone).
These positive feelings were present for all participants after coloring, regardless of whether they did the activity first or last.
Results of the second study
The second study was similar to the first. Only this time, there were 51 first-year undergraduate participants (40 female and 11 male). Additionally, the participants took different psychological tests than in the first study. This time, the tests were looking for the impact coloring has on creative thinking and visual attention. As well as relaxation and mindfulness. It turns out, the undergraduates also displayed higher levels of visual attention and creative thinking after coloring.
Dr Holt, a senior lecturer in the Department of Health and Social Sciences at UWE Bristol, said: “Our first study confirmed evidence for the benefits of coloring on mood that has been found in earlier studies, but the findings on mindfulness, creativity and visual attention are new and exciting.“
Why Does Coloring Reduce Stress and Boost Creativity
The studies from UWE Bristol confirm what many people thought to be true – coloring can improve your mood if you’re feeling overwhelmed or in a creative slump. However, the question of “why” still remains. What is going on in our brains that produces these effects?
Overriding Stressful Images
A leading theory is that by participating in coloring tasks, you override the stressful images in your brain. We know something similar happens for people who enjoy playing computer games.
One study by the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Oxford found that when Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) sufferers played Tetris after viewing traumatic material, it reduced involuntary flashbacks. But why? The theory is that traumatic flashbacks are visuospatial (they require you to connect visual objects to the space around you). However, your brain can only do a limited amount of visuospatial activities at once. By playing Tetris, sufferers temporarily hijack this part of the brain because Tetris requires you to move objects around in space (placing a block in the correct place). Researchers found that by playing Tetris for half an hour after trauma, sufferers could reduce flashback frequency for 1 week.
So, how does this relate to coloring? Well, coloring is also a visuospatial activity. Dr Joel Pearson, a UNSW brain scientist, said, “You have to look at the shape and size, you have to look at the edges, and you have to pick a color. It should occupy the same parts of the brain that stops any anxiety-related mental imagery happening as well.“
Why coloring reduce stress and help with anxiety
In other words, coloring is a mindfulness or meditative exercise. Studies into mindfulness have repeatedly shown that by focusing on the present moment, we reduce anxiety. The theory is that most anxiety is related to the past or the future. You’re either ruminating over a stressful or embarrassing event, or your mind is working overtime to think of all future outcomes. At any given moment, the source of our anxiety is much less likely to be happening right now.
The Lines Unlock Your Creativity
It might sound counterintuitive that taking part in a more restrictive activity (coloring within the lines) can boost creativity more than simply having a blank page. However, having too much freedom (a blank page) can induce pressure. What do you draw when you can draw anything? With coloring, you have the freedom to be creative without the added pressure. And by getting in a creative mindset, you can carry this creativity to other tasks after you finish coloring.