Ease stress, boost memory and promote mindfulness with coloring books



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Adults are reconnecting with their creative roots, as demonstrated by the coloring book craze. Perhaps we are simply seeking childhood joy, but there is mounting evidence that suggests our newfound love of coloring and creative arts is helpful us cope with the stresses of daily life. Anxiety.org, for example, points to a study published by Arts in Psychotherapy, in which subjects who combined art therapy with cognitive behavioral therapy lessened their incidences of panic attacks, as a strong indicator of art’s healing powers. While actual art therapy should be carried out with a licensed professional, you can reap some of the benefits of art at home with inexpensive materials. Break out the crayons, and let’s get to work!


Color yourself happy

Coloring is most likely the earliest form of art we engaged in as children, but it’s also beneficial for adults. Last year, The Huffington Post explored this phenomenon. In the article, which has been translated from its original Spanish, psychologist Gloria Martínez Ayala is quoted as saying, “The action involves both logic, by which we color forms, and creativity, when mixing and matching colors.… 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.”

Photo by Jessica Mendez

Coloring books for adults feature intricate line work and beautifully rendered imagery. The most notable of the pack are the books created by illustrator Johanna Basford, Secret Garden and Enchanted Forest, which are so in-demand that both are currently out of stock on Amazon. If you just can’t wait, The Guardian has five preview printable sheets from Secret Garden that you can print free. Another book series gaining traction is the Anti-Stress Coloring Books collection, consisting of Art Therapy, Color Therapy and Creative Therapy.

As beautiful as they are, you don’t need to use these grownup coloring books to get started. Pick up whatever catches your eye at the dollar store, or check out printable pages at sites such as Crayola, which has a few adult coloring pages as well as popular cartoon characters and more. A word to the wise: good crayons with rich pigment make all the difference in your coloring and only cost a couple of bucks. I’m also a huge fan of colored pencils, particularly watercolor pencils, which have a rich, smooth texture and are great sensory fun if you’re into tactile experiences.


Zen and the art of doodling

I am a chronic doodler. You’ll often find papers strewn about my house covered in shapes and words. Backs of envelopes, journal pages, napkins — no piece of paper is safe from me and my pen. Some may see this as me being distracted, but actually, doodling actually helps me remember information. In a 2009 study published in Applied Cognitive Psychology, participants who doodled while listening to a phone message about a party guest list were able to retain 29 percent more information than the control group and scored higher on a surprise test regarding what they had heard — and this was after they had already performed other tasks and were specifically told they didn’t need to remember the contents of the message.

Doodle and photo by Jessica Mendez

Zentangle, created by Rick Roberts and Maria Thomas, takes doodling to the next level. It involves creating symmetrical patterns and overlapping shapes with distinct designs. In a January 2014 post from Psychology Today, art therapist Cathy Malchiodi reports, “Preliminary studies and anecdotal reports seem support [sic] the idea that Zentangle is a ‘meditative’ art form that actually induces relaxation and has an impact on self-control, mood and stress reduction.” While the duo recommends their Zentangle starter kit, which includes a book and DVD on Zentangle methods and some art tools, you can try some of the methods using paper, fine-tipped pens and pencils from the office supply section of your local discount store. The Zentangle site recommends Sakura Micron pens, which I love, but I have used Uni-Ball and Sharpie, and both work well. For instruction and doodling ideas, check out Zentangle’s newsletter archive, which features many tutorials, try the book Zentangle Basics by Suzanne McNeill, a Certified Zentangle Teacher, or search Pinterest, which Roberts and Thomas even link to on the Zentangle site. Also, when you’re done with your doodles, Zentangle or otherwise, you can save them to use as coloring pages later on!

To round out the experience, find some calming music to listen to while you create. Tell us: what are your favorite art resources?