As we grow up and take on the responsibilities of this endeavor known as adulthood, one thing becomes an almost unavoidable aspect of life: stress. Between jobs, bills, money, relationships, and the other myriad of daily challenges, it seems that stress levels are proportionate to growing up. It’s an important thing to pay attention to because stress is quite literally a killer. Stress is related to a collection of health problems, and if you don’t deal with it effectively, it can be crippling.
Wouldn’t it be great if we could just go back to living the stress-free existence of our childhoods?
Sure, it’d be awesome to just run away from the office and get to the nearest playground, but that might not be the most effective stress management technique. Besides, it’s hard to find someone to push you on the swingset – trust me, I know. In the early 20th century, Dr. Carl G. Jüng developed a relaxation technique inspired by a childhood activity that had amazing results on adults: coloring. Jüng would give adults an outline of a mandala and some crayons, and found that as they colored them – their stress levels would naturally decrease.
Makes sense to me, coloring books are the best. As it turns out there is actually a very scientific reason as to why.
According to psychologist Dr. Gloria Martinez Ayala, when we color there are different areas of the brain in both hemispheres that activate. She says, “The action involves both logic, by which we color forms, and creativity, when mixing and matching colors. This incorporates the areas of the cerebral cortex involved in vision and fine motor skills [coordination necessary to make small, precise movements].
The relaxation that it provides lowers the activity of the amygdala, a basic part of our brain involved in controlling emotion that is affected by stress.”
Essentially, because we focus so intently on the activity of coloring, we don’t focus on whatever is stressing us out. As much as that sounds like simple escapism, it is important to remember that relaxation is one of the most crucial tools in combating chronic stress.
By taking our brains out of the stress loop we often get stuck in, it gives us a chance to channel creativity and imagination and give our brains a much-needed rest. Antoni Martinez, another psychologist, says: “I recommend it as a relaxation technique. We can use it to enter into a more creative, freer state.”
So if you are like me and are ready to jump on the coloring book wagon, there is even more good news. There are coloring books designed specifically for adults. There is a French publisher, Hachette, that has a adult-specific collection of coloring books called Art-Thérapie. The twenty volume de-stressing collection includes books with everything from butterflies and flowers to cupcakes, graffiti, and psychedelic patterns. Personally, I’m going to stick with this Ninja Turtles coloring book that I may or may not have stolen from my nephew, and I can already feel the stress melting away.