The latest strategy in managing stress and anxiety is a total throwback to our kindergarten days
Recently, after a particularly stressful day at work, my friend suggested I pick up a coloring book on my way home from work. I quickly typed 'haha' into the Gchat window...only to Google 'Coloring Books for Adults' and find dozens upon dozens of results. (Science says hobbies can reduce stress just as well as exercise, FYI.)
It's true that coloring past the age of eight is definitely having a moment—and for good reason. Coloring has been deemed a healing, therapeutic activity for adults, even being credited with helping cancer patients with their diagnosis and healing, according to one study published in the journal Psychooncology. But even in less grim situations—say, graduate school—coloring can help ease tension, help you relax, and even inspire creativity. As someone who juggles a full-time job with a busy freelancing career, social life, workout schedule, and dog, I'm often in dire need of some zen.
My six-year-old self loved coloring books, and I could occupy myself for hours with a box of crayons and some pictures. So I figured why not throw it back to grade school and give it a shot? Sure, it felt a little odd to buy crayons, sit down on the couch, and actually color in a picture, but I was curious to see if it would make a difference in my stress level and overall happiness.
Finding the Right Coloring Book
There are so, so many coloring books for adults—who knew?! From mandalas (or symbols) that encourage colorful patterns to books that feature scenes like you likely saw in your childhood stash of coloring books, there's something everyone to color. I tried a few coloring books: The Coloring Dream Mandalas, Color Me Happy, and Let It Go! Coloring and Activities to Awaken Your Mind and Relieve Stress Adult Coloring Book. While each had their own perks—the mandalas were incredibly mindless (just alternating colors to make a kaleidoscope-like image) and the stress-relieving book was super simple—the one I loved the most was Color Me Happy. It was more traditional, with pictures of scenic homes, food, travel, and people to choose from. I loved how the authors colored in a few of the pages to inspire you, but the rest were left empty for the colorer to fill with their own creativity and color schemes. Once I settled on the right coloring book, I set a Google calendar reminder to actually remind myself to relax.
The Different Between Coloring As a Kid Versus As an Adult
After work, I usually catch a boxing class, take the pup for a walk, shower and then (finally!) sit down for dinner. By then, I'm usually ready to turn on some Netflix and chill (by myself, thank you very much). Even so, I'm never quite at ease when I'm binge-watching television—I feel like I need to be doing something. So on a Tuesday night, I curled up in sweats on my couch with hot tea and the pup chewing on her toy next to me and pulled out my new coloring book and my super fancy crayons (did you know they make retractable ones now?), flipping through my coloring book until an image piqued my interest.
I found a whimsical landscape with a few houses and big, rolling hills. Above the homes were a dozen or so stars, and it reminded me of growing up in North Carolina, where the skies seemed to go on forever, uninterrupted by the buildings I see now in New York. There was something peaceful about the image that reminded me of being at home with my family and those I love the most, so I selected it from the bunch.
I started coloring the sky since it would be easiest—and within 10 minutes, I was on a roll. When I was younger, I was hyper-concerned with staying within the lines and would throw away a photo if it wasn't absolutely perfect. Twenty years later, my standards aren't quite as high. If I happened to make a mistake—which I did, several times—I went into problem-solving mode and made it part of the photo, something I never would have considered as a kid.
Was It Worth the Hype?
I ended up coloring way past my bedtime to finish a photo, and, honestly, I barely looked at my iPhone to see what time it was. I didn't check my apps, didn't respond to text messages, and didn't pay attention to the background TV. When I finally made it to bed, I was so zoned out, I fell right asleep. When I came into work the next day, I came in ready to work: I edited articles, wrote a few, assigned some and made it through my inbox before 1 p.m. I felt inspired and creative and had less tension than the day before. The only downfall of coloring: the cramps I got in my hand from filling in the colors.
Over the course of the following week, when I found myself unable to fall asleep at night or when I was working on a big project at work and needed to get inspired, I pulled out my coloring book and started to doodle until something clicked. Each time, I felt that tension release in my shoulders and my brain stop stop racing. Funnily enough, my intern at work just gave me a coloring book as a 'thank you' gift, and I ended up buying one for my mom that I'll give to her this holiday. I also bought one for a friend who's on the job search and needs a way to let her ideas flow. It's such an easy gift, and I wanted to be able to share this powerful stress relief tool with the people in my life who I know need it the most. (Need more than a coloring book? These 5 Simple Stress Management Tips Actually Work.)
While I'm coloring, I let go of my To Do list. I stop thinking about the day ahead. I let myself get lost in the colors and following the lines and thinking outside of the pages. The mental break is helpful—and honestly, creating stories and scenes and pictures now is just as fun as it was when I was laying on my childhood bedroom floor.