Take a look at the magazine aisle of your local grocery store, or the newsstand at the airport. Wedged between a copy of Vogue and a few crossword puzzles, you’ll likely find one of the trendiest adult “toys” on the market—and it’s not a gadget. It’s a good, old-fashioned coloring book.
There’s something alluring about coloring books among the adult set. They’re shockingly soothing, says Karla Ivankovich, PhD, an adjunct professor of psychology at the University of Illinois, Springfield. “Millennials have been dubbed the most stressed-out generation of our time,” she explains. “Coloring allows one to enter into a restorative process, where a mindless activity can remove the insurmountable tasks of the day.”
In case you’re now noticing coloring books everywhere, there’s an interesting psychological reason adults are rediscovering a classic activity.
A State of Mindless Mindfulness
Coloring books harken back to the simpler days of childhood, where we grabbed our colored pencils during quiet playtime. “As an adult, coloring has become an activity where the mindless can become mindful,” Ivankovich explains. “You get to fall into a state of mindfulness. You choose to color in the lines. You think through your color choices. You are creating a work of art—all the while, and often without knowing it, learning a new coping mechanism for self-soothing, meditation and relaxation.”
Better yet, because coloring has always held an individual flair—go ahead, color outside the lines! turn the horse into a unicorn! give the prince pink hair!—your crayons can do no wrong on their decision-making. “In essence, the coloring book trend gives adults full creative license to be children again, getting lost in the moment,” Ivankovich says, “which is a thing of beauty.”
What Are Similar Ways to De-Stress?
You should always have a slew of ways to unwind in your back pocket for extra-hectic days, says Ivankovich. “Like coloring books, you can choose anything that takes you back to a time when the last thing you had to do was worry,” she says. “This generation has been asked to be perfect at everything they do.”
If you’re not crazy for coloring, you might try listening to songs you liked as a child, taking a walk in nature, doing a puzzle, or breaking out some Legos. Beyond that, Ivankovich suggests this recipe for a stress-busting smoothie:
- 2 teaspoons of fun — Do something that makes you laugh everyday.
- 1 tablespoon of mindfulness — Take time to just “be.” Alone, listening to music, coloring, relaxing.
- 1 heaping cup of sleep — Don’t skimp, and you’ll feel better. Get a full seven to eight hours each night.
- 1 splash of digital fasting — Take some time everyday to leave your smartphone behind and turn your TV off. Start with an hour where you disconnect.
- 1 pinch of movement — Participate in “feel good” exercise. Walk, run, participate in group programs, play intramural sports. Whatever makes you happy and get you moving.
- 1 gallon of realism — Establish your limits and get to know your boundaries. Determine the sources of your stress—specific family members, work obligations, travel, etc.—and work to minimize their effects. It might mean skipping an event, sleeping an extra couple hours on the weekend or, yes, breaking out a coloring book.
This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.