In 2015, according to the New York Post, nearly half the books on Amazon’s best-seller list were adult coloring books. I find that fact incredibly heartening. In today’s world of hyper-connection and news overload, I love the idea of so many people turning away from their screens, resisting the urge to tweet, update, email, or text, and choosing instead to create a bit of beauty in their world.
It’s a smart choice and not just because the world could always use more beauty. The calming effects of coloring have been touted by researchers and yogis alike and may be especially helpful to people in recovery from addiction.
According to Rokelle Lerner, the senior clinical adviser at Eric Clapton’s treatment center, Crossroads Centre Antigua, and author of Daily Affirmations for Adult Children of Alcoholics, “The effect of coloring on the brain is amazing for relieving stress, which is key in the healing process of anyone suffering from addiction.”
As the illustrator of Inkspirations for Recovery, I’m especially invested in the healing that is possible at the intersection of art and self-evolution, so I put together a list of ways coloring can be a powerful tool in the recovery process. From stress and anxiety reduction to mindfulness and self-compassion, here are eight reasons the simple act of coloring should be a part of your recovery (or self-care) process:
1. Coloring reduces anxiety.
A primary issue for those in recovery is an inability to find peace without the use of alcohol or other substances. A recent University of New England study showed that even a brief period of art-making can significantly reduce a person’s state of anxiety. Coloring takes your attention away from anxious thoughts and focuses it on the creative task at hand.
2. By nature, coloring is an act of presence.
It offers an opportunity to pause, to sit quietly with yourself and zone in rather than zone out, and to gently work through your feelings in a nonthreatening environment. Like meditation and yoga, coloring is a quiet, self-affirming activity, one that has the advantage of being less demanding than other mindfulness practices, without being passive.
3. Coloring increases your ability to focus.
Attempting to color in the lines (or consciously coloring outside them) focuses the brain in a way that isn’t stressful. It not only allows you to let go of everyday worries for a short time but refocuses that energy on a tangible, creative task.
4. Coloring makes you a better thinker.
This is important for everyone but especially for people in recovery, who are learning new tools and techniques to deal with hardships and stress. In working with the detailed drawings of adult coloring books and considering color palettes that are aesthetically pleasing, you activate the parts of your mind responsible for organization and problem-solving.
5. Coloring awakens the child in you.
By indulging in an activity we associate with childhood, we are able to explore a more creative and playful side of ourselves. This is especially beneficial for people who grew up in chaotic, possibly alcoholic homes and who may have missed out on the simple creative pleasures of childhood, like coloring.
6. Coloring fosters a creative life.
So many of us long to be more creative. Our lives are demanding. There are people to care for, jobs to do, bills to pay, our health to attend to (especially for those of us in recovery, whether from addiction, illness, or injury). All the while, inside us, there is often a creative itch we can’t seem to scratch.
Adult coloring books are easy. You don’t have to take a class, buy expensive supplies, or create a separate workspace. A coffee table, a coloring book, and some colored pencils are all it takes to get the creativity ball rolling.
7. Coloring expands your creative mind.
Because it’s so easy to get started, it’s a perfect way to begin exploring your creativity. Having a regular creative outlet is even more important for people in recovery, who, once free of addictive substances, often experience a tremendous void. A new hobby like coloring can help fill the void in a healthy way and spark interest in other artistic endeavors.
8. Coloring is an act of self-love.
Every time we take time for ourselves, every time we devote energy to enjoying our own unique, frustrating, wonderful, maddening lives, we expand our capacity for joy. In a society where negative self-talk, shame, and harsh self-judgment seem all too commonplace, coloring allows us to take a step back, breathe, and for a little while, lovingly tend to the ongoing business of healing and nurturing ourselves.