By Elizabeth Doherty
ART has for generations been our saviour – our cultural escape from the craziness of the everyday – but no-one could have predicted adult colouring books could help with depression, anxiety and stress.
Ireland Today has talked to a selection of adult colourers who say they have dealt with anything from physical to psychological health problems, thanks to the simple colouring book once only a child’s innocent delight.
Claire Eadie, 27, a mother-of-two from the Midlands, UK, started colouring after suffering an anxiety disorder.
“I have suffered with Emetophobia, the fear of sicknesss, for five years since having Norovirus in 2010.
“I’ve had anxiety order for 10 ears since I was 17.
“For a time, I could barely leave the house. I suffered panic attacks at the slightest queasy feeling and if I did go out, I could only say within a couple of miles away from my home.
There were times I felt really low and didn’t know how much longer I could carry on living in daily fear. I never considered that colouring might help me, until I remembered a time it had.
Claire harked back to 2013 when she felt particularly low and as she lay on the floor, she spotted one of her children’s colouring books.
“In my panic-stricken state, it occurred to me that concentrating on colouring might take my mind off the anxiety enough for me to function.
“I pulled the book and pens to the floor from the table and dragged them towards me. I started colouring. I don’t think I even noticed what I was colouring or the colours I was using.
“I thought of nothing. I just coloured. Before I knew it the picture was done and I had spend 20 minutes free of panic.”
Claire said she managed to avoid an anxiety attack just by using her hands and mind to concentrate on the picture.
She says she went from a high stress mental state to a meditative feeling. Claire started taking colouring seriously in the spring of last year and began to research the different types of colouring books and materials to use.
She found there was a shortage of information, so she set up her own blog: www.colourwithclaire.com to help others.
She has reviewed around 200 adult colouring books and has become part of a huge and growing online community, with colourers sharing photos of their work and stories of how the activity helps them in their lives.
Lucy Fyles, 25, from Worthing, West Sussex, is another adult colourer, who has also used the art form to help her anxiety. She also has her own blog: www.inthemidstofmadness.wordpress.com where she writes about mental health and colouring.
“I’m an adult colourer who is currently virtually housebound with a severe anxiety disorder,” Lucy said.
I have used adult colouring throughout this period of illness and found it very beneficial for my anxiety and I now review adult colouring books and mediums from a mental health perspective.
“Before having to stop work, I was working as a nursing assistant on a psychiatric inpatient ward and I regularly used adult colouring with my patients, with great effects on mood and stress levels.”
Lucy explained she is using her blog to: “reduce stigma, dispel some myths and misconceptions, to put a face to mental illness and to highlight positive and negative stories in the media.”
She said she never grew out of colouring and that while completing a psychology degree, Lucy coloured as a form of relaxation and a way of using her creativity.
“I always used to have to use children’s books because adult ones didn’t really exist or just consisted of geometric patterns which were lovely but a little tedious given the lack of choice.
When I was an hospital inpatient in 2008 we participated in art therapy and were often given colouring pages of mandalas or garden scenes which were wonderfully relaxing to add colour to.
“As a nursing assistant and activity co-ordinator in an NHS psychiatric unit, I regularly used colouring with my patients to promote calmness and use as a distraction technique when they were experiencing difficult feelings.
“One of my patients brought in an adult colouring book called The Creative Colouring Book for Grown-Ups which was unlike any colouring book I’d seen before and I went ahead and bought a copy and so my adult colouring journey truly began.”
Lucy also reviews books on her blog and aims to help others who are housebound to enable them to choose their next colouring book.
There seems to be a psychological process that lies within the act of colouring – and the books are even being sold as mindfulness tools now.
It’s believed the activity engages the brain to relaxation but maintaining concentration without becoming draining.
Research carried out at San Francisco State University examined if a range of hobbies and pastimes could help workers recover from the demands of their jobs.
The study, published in the Journal of Occupational and Organisational Psychology, found that people who pursue creative activities outside the office not only deal with stress better but their performance at work improves, too.
Dr Joel Pearson, a brain scientist at the University of New South Wales in Australia has a different explanation for the therapeutic effect of colouring stating that concentrating on colouring an image may replace of negative thoughts and images with pleasant ones.
Dr Pearson said: “You have to look at the shape and size, you have to look at the edges, and you have to pick a colour.”
“It should occupy the same parts of the brain that stops any anxiety-related mental imagery happening as well. … Anything that helps you control your attention is going to help.”
Michelle Byrne, 51, from Trenton New Jersey in the U.S. is the founder of Coloring For Me, another adult colouring website.
Similar to the others Ireland Today talked to, Michelle finds that sitting down to colour, helps her cope.
It relaxes me. I suffer from depression and anxiety and this really helps. When I am feeling anxious, I can really lose myself when I colour.
“I’ve been colouring For about 10 years now. Up until this past year, it has been really hard to find adult colouring books. Now I find them everywhere I go.”
But of course, until the world of adult colouring exploded last year, Michelle was one of many who hid her creative side for fear of ridicule. After all, this had been a hobby favoured by five-year-olds for so long.
Many would and still do question why adults would colour when surely they could be partaking in baking, knitting, mowing the lawn, or some other sort of serious adult activity.
“For many years I hid it,” Michelle said. Only my closest friends and family knew about it. My husband has always been very encouraging. Now that it has become more mainstream, I find myself being much more open about it. I still get some strange looks though.
“I got my best friend hooked on it and we sometimes colour together. Mostly though it is a solitary hobby. I can lose myself in making my art and that’s truly what I consider this to be.
“I tell people all the time that I can feel my blood pressure return to normal after a really stressful day.”
I love Floral pieces and abstract animals. I spend entire days working on pieces – and I’m talking eight or more hours.
Adult Coloring Worldwide, one of Facebook’s fastest growing and largest adult colouring groups, has over 16,000 members.
The group also has a website to promote colouring book artists and to keep colourers up-to-date on the latest news at www.adultcoloringworldwide.com
One thing seems for sure, colouring is far from just a hobby for children anymore and mothers and fathers could get more out of play-time than they had ever anticipated.
If you have any stories of the arts helping you, get in touch. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, tweet us at @irelandtodaynews_ or like us on Facebook.