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Should You Try Adult Colouring Books?

12 May 2016

It seems like the whole nation is reaching for crayons, but can colouring really help reduce your stress and anxiety levels? Netdoctor interviewed the CEO of the British Association of Art Therapists, Val Huet to find out more about the difference between adult colouring books and Art Therapy...

Jennifer Cook interviewed the CEO of the British Association of Art Therapists, Val Huet to find out more about the difference between adult colouring books and Art Therapy...

It seems like the whole nation is reaching for crayons, but can colouring *really* help reduce your stress and anxiety levels?

Colouring used to be reserved for children, but recently the activity has found its way to an entirely new demographic. What started as a niche hobby has now turned into a phenomenon that's taken the nation (and the world) by storm over the last year or so, having us all rushing to the nearest bookstores and ransacking the house for felt-tips.

Adult colouring books have become so popular, Waterstones has noticed a 300% rise in sales of them year-on-year. The trend is even threatening pencil stocks worldwide, according to the world's biggest wooden pencil manufacturer, Faber-Castell.

Yes, adult colouring has certainly made its mark – and not just on paper. It's been suggested that it can aid in the wellbeing of working adults, 1 in 10 of which are likely to have a 'disabling anxiety order' at some stage in their life, according to Anxiety UK.

Indeed, thousands of these books are being marketed as 'stress-relieving', suggesting that the public is looking for a way to combat the negative effects of modern life. Christine Hohlbaum, author of The Power of Slow: 101 ways to save time in our 24/7 World, spoke to us about the importance of 'me' time, and how colouring fits into this:

"I think that our 24/7 world – where we are always available and constantly plugged in – has a lot to do with our current state of anxiety. It is hard to resist the pleading sounds of our mobiles ringing, and at work we bounce back and forth between various applications, websites and other modules that hold our attention captive – or rather distracted."

Christine cites a 2015 survey by Microsoft, which found our attention spans (thanks to smartphones) to have reduced from 12 to 8 seconds since the year 2000 – less than that of a goldfish! She says that all this distraction is to blame for our stressed-out existence.

"The reason off-screen time is so important is because we need to be centered in order to live mindful lives. Anaesthetising ourselves leads to a series of problems, including overeating, drinking too much and other bad habits that can cause serious illness."

'Mindfulness' is defined by the Mental Health Foundation as activities that help us become more aware of our thoughts and feelings so that, instead of being overwhelmed by them, we are better able to manage them and in turn cope with our daily lives more effectively. So does colouring really fall under this category? Christine thinks so:

"Everyone learned how to colour as a kid. It's one of the first things we do, besides learning to walk. It helps with fine motor skills and cognitive development such as problem-solving. As adults, we are often faced with serious problems so going back to the basic helps ease our minds and helps us remember we CAN be creative."

It is also thought that the process of colouring – taking our concentration away from work and focusing it on something repetitive and relaxing – helps us distance ourselves from life's stresses, resulting in benefits that are similar to meditation, making the colourer feel calmer and happier.

However, Graham Doke, founder of Anamaya and Anamaya for school sees these books as nothing more than a temporary solution to an ongoing problem.

"Adult colouring books are a one-off short term relaxation device, the pacifier, which will work only if you concentrate. They have no effect in the long term. In the end, a proper programme of mind training is essential. Mindfulness is simply one component of such a programme, but there is more to training the mind than simply trying to sit without thinking."

Alternatives to colouring

Whether you're searching for a one-off distraction or a more permanent solution to stress-related problems, there's a wealth of things out there that can be done as an alternative to colouring but to a similar effect.

Generally speaking, activities such as exercise and healthy eating have been scientifically proven to be good for peoples' well-being. The endorphins released in our body when we exercise make us happy, and improving your diet directly improves your mood. However, here are some more not-so-well-known suggestions that could help you on your road to 'mindfulness'.

Walking

Specifically, walking in the woods. It's been found that Londoners living near trees generally had better mental health than those who didn't. Christine also highlighted that walking through wooded areas can help prevent cancer, as well as working wonders for your mood:

"Walking is low-impact and gets your circulation going. I prefer walking through the woods for the added benefit that trees bring. One study found that spending time in the woods was proven to increase the expression of anti-cancer proteins. Additionally, phytoncides (responsible for preventing the growth of attacking organisms) are released from trees. Stress hormone levels also decreased in those tested."

Art therapy

Closely related to colouring, art therapy encourages the creation of art – whether that is painting, music, drama or dance – as a way of tackling negativity. A 2006 study found that art therapy for women with cancer helped to significantly decrease symptoms of physical and emotional distress during treatment. Another similar study also found that cancer patients of all ages "overwhelmingly expressed comfort" after just one hour of art therapy.

Val Huet, Chief Executive Officer at the British Association of Art Therapists (BAAT) spoke to us about how colouring can act as a stepping stone to other therapeutic activities:

"For many people, colouring books are a first introduction to art-making, an activity they may have previously thought beyond their capability. Anecdotal evidence indicates that they then go on to other art-related activities, which is positive in terms of wellbeing and resilience. It may also get them to explore art therapy as a therapeutic intervention for themselves. Actually using one's hands to do something different than working on keyboards is really useful to calm some of the 'tape on a loop' thoughts. It engages the right-side of the brain which is linked to creativity and imagination."

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This article was first published by Netdoctor on 23rd March 2016.