Trendiness is rarely next to Godliness. Occasionally though, every once in while, a trend comes along that is interesting, uplifting, and actually helpful. One of those trends is adult coloring books. Coloring books for adults have become so popular lately that they have topped the New York Times and Amazon.com Bestseller Lists. The wonderful thing about coloring is that it's not only fun, it's also good for you.
Why is Coloring Good For You?
For those of you who are familiar with Mihály Csíkszentmihályi's ground-breaking book, Flow, coloring is what is known as an autotelic activity, which is to say, it is an immersive and absorbing behavior that is rewarding in and of itself. Engaging in autotelic activities has been shown to improve concentration and a sense of agency. Autotelic activities tend to decrease anxiety and self-consciousness. As an added benefit, coloring requires the use of fine motor skills, which can reduce the impact of age-related losses in dexterity. Coloring can also bring back fond memories from childhood, which contributes other positive feelings to the mix.
Coloring reduces stress by drawing your attention to a concrete and repetitive activity. This increases your focus and activates portions of your parietal lobe, which are connected to your sense of self and spirituality. Incidentally, these are the very same areas that are active during meditation and prayer. When you choose different colors or types of implements (e.g., markers vs. crayons) the parts of your brain that control both vision and creativity become active. For my fellow nerds out there, some of these areas are the occipital cortex, the posterior parietal cortex (PPC), the posterior precuneus and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC).
The one problem with coloring that I have discovered when I prescribe it to my own adult patients is inhibition. Many adults feel that coloring is just for kids and that to take time doing it is wasteful and indulgent. It's not. If you try coloring for just a little while, I suspect that you will experience some of the benefits that I am suggesting. If you are uncomfortable with the idea, try thinking of coloring like you might think about eating your vegetables: just one is not going to kill you, and who knows, you might actually like it!
Dr. Ben Michaelis is a clinical psychologist in full-time private practice in Manhattan. Dr. Michaelis writes and speaks regularly about mental health, creativity, and motivation. He is the author of numerous popular and scholarly articles and is a regular contributor to The Huffington Post. Dr. Michaelis is a frequent guest on nationally syndicated TV shows such as, NBC's The Today Show, The Hallmark Channel's Home & Family, and MSNBC's Your Business. Dr. Michaelis is the author of Your Next Big Thing: 10 Small Steps to Get Moving and Get Happy. You can get the 1st chapter of his book by signing up here.