Using an Adult Coloring Book for 30 Minutes a Day Has Totally Boosted My Mood — Here’s How

published May 13, 2021
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My first adult coloring book was a gift. I had been looking for something that could calm me down, and a lot of people recommended I hop on the coloring trend. Eventually, a friend gave me the Secret Places” coloring book, full of patterns and prints of intricate gardens, landscapes, and flowers. At first, the idea of sitting down to complete a full page of tiny flowers seemed a little exhausting, maybe even tedious. “Surely there were better things I could do with an hour of my time?” I kept thinking, a little guiltily. But after some time, I began to realize that was exactly the point. 

If we’re thinking about traditional forms of “productivity,” filling in a coloring book may seem like an inherently unproductive task. It might seem meaningless to anyone but the person doing the coloring — and as one of those people who loves their coloring books, the activity is probably one of the things I do best and take the most pride in. When else is the motivation for my actions as simple and pure as “I want to make something a little prettier, for beauty and beauty’s sake only”?

It’s not hard to find articles discussing how adult coloring books have stolen our hearts throughout history. According to Time, versions of adult coloring books have been around for quite a while: As early as 1612, adults were coloring in maps of England and Wales depicting “fantastical creatures,” and in 1760s London, wealthy elites colored in flower engravings in Robert Sayer’s “The Florist.” When people talk about adult coloring now, they most likely mean the boom of adult coloring books that took serious hold in 2015, according to a deep-dive from Minnesota Public Radio. While the trendiness has settled down in subsequent years, adult coloring books have still remained incredibly popular. 

When it comes to adult coloring books, I cannot sing their praises enough. Here’s why adult coloring books can improve anyone’s day:

They Remind Me of Youth

In elementary school, I was the first in the door to our weekly “Arts Attack” period, although like many people I lost my artistic streak in the stress of the years after. Now, I’ve found that cracking open a coloring book reminds me of times when rest and play were the foundations of my days.

As clinical psychologist Scott M. Bea, PsyD, explained to Cleveland Clinic, “Adults typically choose forms of activities they loved as children for their adult recreations.” Coloring books definitely count, and many people remember coloring as a practice embedded in their childhood. Adult coloring may be powerful exactly because of that nostalgia, an extra layer of joy other mindfulness trends don’t provide. 

Or, as Arthur Markman, Ph.D., a psychology professor at the University of Texas at Austin told Thrive Global, “The older you get, the happier you feel by tapping into your younger self. Revisiting an old hobby can allow us to feel like we did when we were younger, which is deeply comforting.”  

They May Help Calm the Central Nervous System

There are plenty of benefits to coloring beyond the pretty resulting image. Craig Sawchuk, a clinical psychologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, told the Washington Post, “Coloring can help slow down heart rate and respiration, loosen muscles, and stimulate the brain.”

Like other mindfulness trends, adult coloring can help reduce anxiety, CNN notes. According to therapist and licensed clinical social worker Emily Hamilton, coloring can also help us process our emotions by calming the central nervous system.  

“I definitely recommend adult coloring books to my clients and find it is a really helpful self-soothing and coping tool,” she told Apartment Therapy. The process of coloring in an outline on a page “focuses your energy enough on a certain simple task without it becoming escapism,” which is crucial.  

“Often, activities that people usually go to when they are stressed such as watching a TV show or movie can serve as an escape from their own thoughts and feelings,” Hamilton explained, and while those activities “can be helpful at times, if you are wanting to be able to self-soothe and not just escape, doing an activity that calms the nervous system while allowing for you to sort through and tolerate your thoughts and feelings can be much more helpful, productive, and effective.”

Coloring is my go-to when I need to reflect on a situation in my life, or want a break from work that doesn’t involve social media. I often color for around 30 minutes in the morning to get oriented for the day, and then dedicate the same amount of time in the evenings to unwind. I also color whenever I have a little bit of time before meetings or want to take a break from work. 

Before coloring, I’d often be on my phone or dwelling on deadlines or upcoming stressors. With coloring, that unstructured time feels like something to look forward to. There’s a small sense of pride whenever I finish a section of a page, or complete a full page or book. After 15 to 20 minutes of coloring, I personally feel much more relaxed, open-minded, and creative — the opposite of how doomscrolling on Twitter usually leaves me!

Adult Coloring Books Are Low-Stakes

Adult coloring is also an incredibly easy hobby for me. It requires little funding, so there’s no guilt about ruining that expensive paintbrush with “beginner mistakes.” Basic colored pencils will do, and there’s plenty of coloring sheets available for free online. 

I tend to veer toward coloring books with nature landscapes, like the “Secret Places” coloring book. I’d especially recommend nature-based coloring books to anyone who is more on the anxious side, because looking at images of nature might help calm you down. I also love art and painting, and am planning to purchase books focused on Vincent Van Gogh and Gustav Klimt soon. Museums offer free coloring sheets of famous paintings as well, if books don’t catch your attention.

But coloring can also be just plain fun or goofy! You can check out comedic, tongue-in-cheek books like “Calm the F*ck Down: An Irreverent Adult Coloring Book,” which features sayings like “Home Is Where The Vodka Is,” and is meant to get people laughing. I also opt towards TV-themed books, like “The Official Bob’s Burgers Coloring Book.”

For pencils, I use a 24-pack of Crayola colored pencils and the 24-pencil BIC Color Collection set by Conte, and those do the job just fine. I’d advise getting a 24-pack of colored pencils to start with if you’re not going to be doing other art projects. But I would recommend avoiding crayons; they won’t get into the tiny spaces well at all. 

Coloring also requires very few new skills, so it’s not intimidating the way other new endeavors might be. There is not a real risk of “failure.” As we all know, trying new things can be challenging. “Deep in our brains there’s a primeval fear of looking bad, a fear of not performing as well as others,” Keith Rollag, a management professor at Babson College and author, told The Cut. “One of the challenges with new hobbies is the fact that you’re meeting new people, new groups, new experiences, and that triggers a lot of that anxiety we have about being the newcomer.” 

Adult coloring avoids those obstacles. Nobody has to worry about underachieving at smearing some color on a page! 

But if you do want to meet new people, you’re in luck: The inherent accessibility of coloring books makes them a great social tool. Many libraries offer coloring clubs, so that you can gather with other enthusiasts without the pressure of “performing well.” If you’d like to keep your circle small, you can make coloring a wine night, or a day in with friends.

They’re Just Nice to Look At

Remember what I said about beauty for beauty’s sake? Part of the appeal is simple: Adult coloring is art. They are dangerously easy to Instagram. (Yes, I am referring to my own habits!) Some books even have pages you can tear out, color, and then frame or give as gifts. (Print out a design on cardstock, color it in, and add a message to a friend, and you have a thoughtful, one-of-a-kind card.) 

Coloring sheets also come in different genres and can meet a variety of occasions. For those looking for the tranquil effects of nature, there are plenty set in pleasing, calming landscapes such as gardens and seascapes. For those who want a bit more artistry, there are intricate designs to focus on. And if you truly need something as adult as possible, there’s a whole genre of interior design-based books that are meant to help you explore color palettes for your next home makeover. And just like that, adult coloring can even be practical.