Harper is among thousands of adult Americans who have picked up crayons—or pens or pencils—and put them to coloring books (or used them to draw original works of art). But what, really, are the health benefits of coloring?

Massage therapist Kathleen Ann Harper, CMP, an author and certified life coach via The Well-Crafted Mom, likes to color as a form of relaxation.

To make it work for her, she says that she keeps a small, postcard-sized coloring book and colored pencils in her car. This enables her to color when she’s waiting to pick her sons up from school and other activities, or when she is early for an appointment.

“I find coloring is much more relaxing than responding to emails or scrolling through social media,” Harper says. “Even if I’m only working on the coloring book for a few minutes, my mood improves and I feel more grounded.”

Harper is among thousands of adult Americans who have picked up crayons—or pens or pencils—and put them to coloring books (or used them to draw original works of art). But what, really, are the health benefits of coloring?

Time-Tripping with Crayons

Coloring requires taking a little trip back in time, to an activity that many of us enjoyed in our very early years.

This activity is coloring and, according to the Children’s Center for Growth and Development, an agency with offices in Hartland and Ann Arbor, Michigan, it is one that helps children hone a variety of skills. These include:

  • Learning how to use both hands at the same time, which is necessary for actions such as tying shoes or buttoning shirt or pants;
  • Greater control over fine motor movements, which helps with any activity that requires the performance of precise actions, such as picking a penny up off the ground or holding a pencil to write;
  • Better self-regulation through performing an activity that requires patience and time;
  • Increased self-esteem sustained from seeing a project through from start to finish, a project that helps reveal a person’s creative side.

Arguably, most adults have already practiced these skills repeatedly. So, what types of self-care advantages does this particular activity have to offer those of us who are well beyond childhood?

Color for Self-Care

Medical Daily reports that coloring is an effective way to manage our mounting stress levels. Art in general helps make life a bit easier to take, so coloring, which is a form of creative expression, provides the same effects.

Plus, this activity has been found helpful for people struggling with mental health issues related to depression and anxiety. Health benefits of coloring also include helping with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and even providing benefits for those who have dementia.

Medical Daily explains that it does all of these things by acting as a sort of meditation because it forces the person coloring to be in the moment. Plus, coloring is a “task with predictable results,” which is in and of itself calming to the human spirit.

Medical Daily adds that these effects aren’t just mental in nature as coloring also provides a physical response. For instance, it impacts your heart rate and your brainwaves, contributing to its relaxing and therapeutic effect.

But is coloring really as beneficial as some health experts would lead us to believe? Art therapist Cathy Malchiodi, PhD, LPCC, LPAT, ATR-BC, REAT, says no.

Are These the Health Benefits of Coloring?

In a post on Psychology Today, Malchiodi explains that the evidence isn’t as clear-cut on the benefits of this action as some suggest.

Malchiodi also contends that coloring “is not a form of meditation nor is it a form of mindfulness” as it lacks the spirituality and tradition behind these foundations.

To her, it’s also not a creative expression of art as you’re not crafting something from imagination and it’s not art therapy because it lacks the relationship component of a true therapy experience.

Malchiodi does, however, admit that some adults do “feel better” after engaging in coloring. But to call it meditation, mindful, creative, or therapy simply mislabels what it is, which is nothing more than coloring in her eyes.

Is coloring really a form of self-care that promises a higher quality of life or is it nothing more than an enjoyable activity devoid of any evidence-based value?

Perhaps it is like beauty, where the answer lies in the eye of the beholder.

Make Your Own Choice

If you feel that sitting down with a coloring book helps you relax and gives you a much-needed break from your day-to-day worries, then, for you, it is likely to be an action you can perform as part of your self-care process.

On the other hand, if you’ve tried coloring and don’t notice any real beneficial effect, it’s possible that it doesn’t provide that same value to you, making it ineffective in regard to self-care.

If you’re not sure about the health benefits of coloring, the only way to find out for sure is to sit down and color to see how it makes you feel. If you decide that you like it, there are a few things you can do to effectively incorporate coloring into your self-care routine.

Harper, the coloring massage therapist, says the color provides her with benefit of disconnecting without guilt when on the go.

“It’s much easier to give myself permission to turn off the phone and color when I’m waiting in the car,” she says.

“When I have my coloring books and pencils in the house, I don’t ever use them because there are too many chores, commitments and distractions.”

Another factor that has helped Harper find more enjoyment in the process is to find a coloring book she looks forward to using.

You can find options in most any big box retail store, but they’re also available on sites like Amazon, where you can find adult coloring books that are inspirational or funny, or even ones that are based around curse words, if you get relief from that sort of thing.

Finally, Harper suggests that you enjoy the fact that this is one activity that doesn’t need a lot of time in order to be effective.

“It was very helpful to realize that I only needed a few minutes of coloring to reap wonderful benefits,” says Harper.

That makes it one self-care option that you can fit in your schedule pretty much anywhere.

Related article: “How Journaling Can Make You a Better Massage Therapist (A Simple 3-Step Process to Get Started)

About the Author

Christina DeBusk is a freelance writer dedicated to providing readers relevant, research-backed content related to health and wellness, personal development, safety, and small business ownership.

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