Why Coloring Books Deserve to Be More than a Fad

woman enjoying her coloring book

Adult coloring books have been enjoying their moment in the spotlight for quite a while now (in fad time, a few years is quite a while!) and they don’t seem to be going anywhere soon. How has this trendy self-care activity stayed relevant, and why haven’t you tried it yet?

It’s on Your Schedule

I bought my first coloring book five years ago, and I wouldn’t be without it. When my nerves are going haywire and my thoughts are racing a mile a minute from a long day at work, trouble with the kids or just too much coffee, sitting down to color in a mandala quiets my mind and helps to restore a feeling of peace and capability.

It’s a fix I keep in my back pocket for difficult situations: I only pull out my coloring book about once a month and complete a full drawing. But one of the best things about coloring is that how often you color and for how long is entirely decided by you. I color infrequently; other people make a habit of coloring for ten minutes every day, or leave their pencils and book out on a coffee table and return to it whenever they like.

Low-Stakes Creativity

Coloring is a fantastic creative outlet for those of us that might not spend much time flexing that particular muscle: I love matching colors and trying new shading techniques without the pressure of designing everything myself. Coloring books are also a great outlet for the more creative types, for exactly the same reason!

Your creative expression begins as early as your first coloring book purchase: there are many options to choose from, from complex mandalas and peaceful nature scenes to humorous images of swear words and Jason Momoa taking a bath. (The funny ones also make great surprise gifts for your socially distant friends!)

hand coloring in a nature-inspired mandala drawing

Backed by Science

A large part of coloring’s enduring appeal is the very convincing science behind it. The renewed focus and calm that I feel after finishing a mandala is not a one-off reaction. A study published in the journal Art Therapy found that anxious students that then spent time coloring a mandala reported much lower anxiety at the end of the exercise than students who colored a plaid design or did not color at all. (Why were results for mandalas better than plaid? Mandalas have complexity, symmetry and form, while plaid is a much simpler set of rectangles!)

Another study found that students who colored every day had fewer indicators of depression or anxiety than they did at the beginning of the experiment, while students who did a logic puzzle every day saw no such decline.

Active Meditation

When comparing wind-down activities, I’d place coloring in a group with gardening and puzzles. When I’m coloring I enter a meditative state, but keep my body moving and my mind focused on an external goal. My thoughts narrow and quiet, and because I’m still interacting with the physical world my thoughts don’t wander away again (which happens when I try to meditate--I’m not very good at it!).

Coloring is my mindfulness activity of choice because it’s relatively cheap and is easier than reading a book or another creative activity, but is more active than getting lost in a Netflix hole.

I can’t speak for everyone and say, definitively, that these are the reasons that this trend has endured--like I said above, everyone colors their own way!--but they’re enough for me to keep a coloring book and a set of pencils in my desk drawer. If you aren’t a fan yet but are intrigued by the benefits, I sincerely hope you give it a try!

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