Get Colorful and Relax

Coloring books for adults
By Jodi Marlin

To some it’s a relaxing, even inspiring activity. Others think it’s simply ridiculous. A distraction taking hold among adults of today is actually one we were assigned to often as children, once upon a time during the days of paste and recess: coloring books.

Coloring is the new Candy Crush, or maybe the modern version of a book club. It’s probably most accurately described as cross between the two: a leisure activity that offers distraction from the daily routine. Coloring has a calming effect and is done sometimes alone, other times as part of a group of life hacks. Devotees say the process unleashes their creative juices.

Sales of adult coloring books shot into orbit in 2015. It’s just plain fun, in part because the designs featured in adult coloring books are more intricate than those published for children. If you can’t focus or life just feels like it’s a bit much to handle, pick up a few colored pencils and add beauty to an outline of flowers, dragonflies, religious symbols, Supreme Court justices or even monster trucks.

Dr. Deborah Godwin-Sparks is an IPFW communications professor on the verge of retirement. In anticipation of the transition, for the last six months she’s been liberating her inner child on paper via colored pencils and gel pens.

“It all started with one of my granddaughters who came into the radio station with me, sat down and did some coloring,” she recalled. Taking note, Godwin-Sparks mentioned her curiosity about the pastime to a few family members. “Then one of my kids gave me an Amazon gift at Christmas and I used it to buy a coloring book. Oh my gosh, it was so relaxing … I had never done much coloring as a child.”

Laugh if you want. Quartz magazine even went so far as to call adult coloring “a cry for help.” But like yoga, meditation and other mindfulness techniques, coloring seems to be adept at putting physical and emotional stressors into perspective. On May 2, Craig Sawchuk, a clinical psychologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., commented in the Washington Post (“Why adults coloring books are the latest trend”) that coloring is among the mindfulness techniques that function “almost like a volume knob to turn down the sympathetic nervous system, the stress response.” Coloring can help slow down heart rate and respiration, loosen muscles and stimulate the brain,” he said, adding “coloring has a grounding effect, a benefit that can be amplified, with deliberate focus on the process.”

Godwin-Sparks has developed a similarly positive perspective on the health benefits of adult coloring. Coupling her newfound hobby with a longstanding interest in women issues, she created Colorful Women Adult Coloring Books—a Facebook page where women from all over the world can post their colored masterpieces. She also coordinates series of local coloring meetups at which attendance is growing.

“I think we as a society are so desensitized by all the violence and things happening around us, that there’s a part of us that wants to connect with the child inside,” she explained. “For me, I had to give myself permission to sometimes color outside the lines and to really focus on what I was doing in the moment. It’s an opportunity to take a step back to a time in our lives when things were simpler and clearer.”

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