Coping with crayons: The surprising ways in which coloring boosts mental health
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There is no smell quite like that of a newly opened box of crayons. This scent can make an individual nostalgic for his or her childhood, but the reality is that new memories of crayons can be made by adults every day. Psychologists note the therapeutic qualities of coloring can help adults manage stress and anxiety. By adopting the pastime, individuals can improve their mental health and focus while boosting creativity.

Carl Jung, the famous psychotherapist, began prescribing coloring projects to his patients in the early 1900s, though the practice is just now gaining popularity among the masses. The calming nature of coloring can partially be attributed to the childhood memories many associate with the hobby, but these effects are also the result of changes in the brain that come with coloring in between the lines. Psychologist Gloria Martinez Ayala explains, “The action involves both logic, by which we color forms, and creativity, when mixing and matching colors. This incorporates the areas [of the brain] involved in vision and fine motor skills. The relaxation that it provides lowers the activity of the amygdala, a basic part of our brain involved in controlling emotion [and fear] that is affected by stress.” For this reason, coloring can be prescribed to cope with anxiety or trauma, among other mental health issues.

Though this new coloring fad promotes creativity and has proven to help individuals cope with stress, some art therapists are critical of using the practice in context of the therapy. Donna Betts, president of the board of the American Art Therapy Association, disapproves of coloring being implemented by art therapists. Since it does not require a lot of skill, she claims it is being overly praised. Betts elaborates, “It’s like the difference between listening to music versus learning how to play an instrument. Listening to music is something easy that everyone can do, but playing an instrument is a whole other skill set.” However, many people find coloring beneficial, and the relative ease with which it can be practiced is often part of the attraction. Sometimes people want to listen to a song instead of learning to play the piano.

Coloring can be a social activity, as coloring parties and events are popping up nationwide. This might seem contrary to the calming aspects of the practice, but those who enjoy coloring often prefer doing so in the company of others. Lisa Congdon, an artist based out of San Francisco, explains, “…because you don’t need to concentrate very much when you’re coloring a coloring book, you can talk and have a glass of wine.” There is a variety of coloring books specially made for adults, ranging from complex mandalas similar to the ones prescribed by Jung to somewhat raunchy adaptations that poke fun at adulthood. Regardless of the content of the coloring book, its therapeutic qualities have already proven beneficial to many adults.

If you or a loved one is struggling with stress, anxiety or other mental health issues, help is available. Sovereign Health Group implements art therapy and other evidence-based modalities to help individuals struggling with mental health disorders, substance abuse issues and dual diagnosis. Call (866) 819-0427 to speak with a professional today.

Written by Courtney Howard, Sovereign Health Group writer

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