By now, most people have heard of the adult coloring phenomenon that has become commonplace in homes and coffee shops across the world. In 2015 alone, 12 million copies of coloring books for adults were sold.
How Coloring Helps With Neuroplasticity
Coloring is subset of the broader category of “art therapy” which is being used to help treat everything from PTSD to tremors associated with strokes.
Whether you have participated in the craze or been skeptical of it up to now, you should know how much the brain and body can benefit from coloring in the lines. Scientists the world over have conducted studies that prove coloring a worthwhile undertaking.
- Brain relieving meditative state: Coloring relaxes your brain and brings it into a calmer state. One of the earliest “prescriptions” linking coloring to psychological benefits originated with the famous psychologist and psychiatrist Carl Jung, who suggested that his patients color Indian-inspired mandalas to calm the brain. Taking your brain to the meditative state that coloring can elicit changes your brain in positive ways.
- Focuses attention away from ourselves: A simple benefit to coloring is that it takes attention off of our daily stresses, be they little or large, and focuses it on something outside ourselves, something we have control of, something we can make beautiful.
- Stress/anxiety lowered: The creative outlet of coloring helps focus your brain on a harmless activity, which calms your amygdala, the area of your brain that can elicit the “fight or flight response” and is responsible for worry, stress, and panic when it is active. A calm amygdala results in a more peaceful, relaxed state.
- “Failure” consequences are low: Compared to the activities of your work and home life in which decisions have the potential to result in dire consequences affecting yourself and others if you fail, coloring is a low-risk activity, which is needed to balance the high-risk areas of our lives.
- Positivity replaces negativity: When we are bombarded by the polarized, frenzied 24-hour news cycle, not to mention strongly worded social media, we often hear negativity throughout our day. Coloring gives us a dose of positivity when we make time for it and can balance the negative input.
- Uses both left & right hemispheres of the brain: One way that coloring is unique from many other artistic expressions is that it uses both of your brain hemispheres relatively equally. The left side of your brain, the creative hemisphere is choosing colors and imparting emotion to the choices. At the same time, your right brain hemisphere, the logical, ordered side, is working to stay inside pre-planned lines and make logical progressions with those colors (if that’s what you choose). Working with both hemispheres helps makes connections within the brain that lead to clearer thinking and deeper levels of intelligence.
- Safe, productive focus away from life stresses and compulsions: When the stress of life is too much to handle, you need a way to step outside of the stress, decompress your mind and your body, and get some perspective. When you have focused too intently on a particular area of your life, you need to break out of that focus. Coloring provides a perfect venue to do just that. Take your brain out of its unhealthy patterns by coloring!
- Helps lift depression: Many other benefits of coloring stated here, like reduced stress, positivity, a meditative state, can lead to alleviated depression. Research has also shown that being artistic, in general, is directly correlated to helping people who are struggling with depression.
- Creativity over technology: We all know that scientists have demonstrated the brain-harming effects of spending time in front of a screen, such as a TV, a computer or a phone or tablet. Very simply, coloring is time not spent in front of a screen, so it not only builds up your brain; it takes you away from brain-damaging activities.
- Takes us back to simpler, happier childhood times: Some think of coloring as childish, but the very fact that it has the association with simpler, happier moments in our lives is a benefit of coloring. Even for those whose childhoods were not ideal, coloring is often separate from those less-than-perfect memories and is a positive connection. Take your mind to a time when responsibilities and subsequent stresses were fewer and further between by coloring.
- Enhances brain areas related to focus, problem-solving & concentration: Art therapy, in general, has been found to help heal the injured areas of the brain in soldiers who sustained Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI’s) in combat, relieving the overloaded nervous system which often accompanies the condition. Physical therapists have taken this research and applied it to use of coloring n the recovery of patients with brain injuries. Coloring, specifically, was also found to significantly decrease both physical and emotional distress of cancer patients during treatments.
- Social time when done with a coloring group: Whether you gather with a group of friends or seek out an already-existing group in your community, combining the many other benefits of coloring with a social connection compounds its benefits. Especially for those with social anxiety, gathering with the specific focus of coloring can make social interaction a less daunting undertaking. And for everyone involved, coloring in groups alleviates the social isolation too often a symptom of our busy, modern society.
If it’s your first coloring book or your tenth, your original box of colored pencils or an addition to your vast and varied collection, make a confident purchase knowing that you are helping your brain heal and develop, lowering your stress level, and benefiting your overall mental and physical health when you put colored pencil or marker to paper and colorfully express your creativity.
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