By Jill McVey DPT, ATC
Coloring is an activity which dates back to the 1800s, when the psychotherapist Carl Jung prescribed therapeutic coloring for his patients to improve their focus. Coloring has similar effects to meditation in that it allows us to “stay in the moment” in order to promote calmness of mind. Concentrating on coloring in an image also facilitates one’s ability to replace negative thoughts with pleasant ones. Recreational coloring for adults began in the 1970s and is enjoying a resurgence today.
You can read more about the benefits of coloring by asking Dr. Google; in this post I want to share my personal experiences that you might not necessarily find in an internet search.
Coloring is cheap.
The initial cost was approximately $40 for two coloring books and a set of 24 colored pencils. The pencils were the bulk of the cost because I wanted a product that made a bright, saturated color without having to press too hard, and that luxury costs more. I bought the coloring books because I wanted my colorings contained in a book, but I could have printed out any number of pages from the internet if I wanted to keep my costs even lower.
I chose coloring books with intricate and abstract outlines, so I take an average of 4 hours to finish one page. I completed approximately 20 colorings in the last year, which breaks down the cost, so far, to 2 dollars per coloring, as well as about 80 hours of portable entertainment.
Coloring is a great alternative to the blue screen.
We all like to marathon a television show on the occasional lazy weekend, but for too many years I used television to cope with daily stressors. Some weeks I could summarize my daily schedule as: wake up, go to work, go work out, come home, watch tv, go to bed. I also wasn’t sleeping well. I laid in bed night after night, mind racing but mentally and physically exhausted.
Research suggests that staring for hours at a backlit screen may have a deleterious effect on melatonin production and sleep quality. I now use coloring to help relax my system and prepare me for bed rather than television. I can feel fatigue and sleepiness set in quickly when I color for just 30 minutes. When my head hits the pillow my mind is already quiet and I can slip into sleep within ten minutes. I don’t remember any other period in my life where I have been able to do this.
Coloring helps me stay focused in the midst of chaos.
Roller derby has been (accurately) described as playing chess while bricks are being thrown at you. The game requires 60 minutes of focus and perfectly timed teamwork while taking and giving heavy physical contact. Last August, I participated in my first roller derby tournament weekend. My team played two 30 minute games and 2 60 minute games in 28 hours — easily the most intensive sporting weekend of my life.
Knowing that physical fatigue usually leads to sloppy play (which means penalties and increased risk of injury), I was anxious to find a way to reset between games, three of which were played in a single day. I found coloring a perfect activity. After each game, I went back to my hotel room and spent a half hour coloring. While coloring didn’t magically up my athletic performance, it helped me maintain focus throughout the weekend by helping me relax between games. My jamming stayed strong and — just as importantly — my penalties didn’t increase with my fatigue.
Coloring is fun for all ages.
Even as a kid I trouble relating to other kids, and my awkwardness has not improved with age. While I usually live in a generally child-free universe day-to-day, holidays with the in-laws bring little cousins who demand time and attention. Frankly, that scares me.
This last winter holiday was the easiest one yet because I brought my coloring books and pencils and kept three girls under the age of 10 occupied for hours. They all got to select a page out of my book and could color as many pages as they desired, and I got to keep a sliver of personal time during the holidays. By the end of the trip the kids and I were pretty good friends and got to bond over a common activity. One even decided I was the “most kid-like adult ever” which I took as a sincere compliment.
Even as a person who is colorblind and who struggles spatially, I have enjoyed the last year of coloring. The benefits are so significant I don’t intend to stop!