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Can Adult Coloring Improve Well-being?


The use of adult coloring books has become popular in the last few years, some 14 million adult coloring books were sold in 2016. They are often marketed as having some benefit for well-being. Like many other relaxing activities, coloring can be calming, but is it really beneficial? A new study finds it might be.

Researchers at the University of Otago in New Zealand found that after coloring regularly for a week, people showed “significantly lower levels of depressive symptoms and anxiety” compared to a control group. Study participants colored a series of complex pictures for at least 10 minutes each day over seven days. Control group members engaged in another focused activity (selecting from activities including logic puzzles, Sudoku, word searches and reverse word searches) for at least 10 minutes each day over seven days.


“We conclude that daily coloring can improve some negative psychological outcomes and that it may provide an effective inexpensive, and highly accessible self-help tool.” Both the coloring and control groups showed improvement in mindfulness. The coloring did not have any impact on resilience or flourishing (a measure of areas such as relationships, self-esteem, purpose and optimism).

While adult coloring is sometimes confused or mistaken for art therapy, coloring is not the same as art therapy. Art Therapy is facilitated by a professional art therapist and is used to improve cognitive and sensory-motor functions, foster self-esteem, cultivate emotional resilience, enhance social skills, and reduce and resolve conflicts and distress, according to The American Art Therapy Association. It is used to help people faced with medical and mental health challenges. Art therapy engages the mind, body, and spirit in ways that are different from verbal communication. It is practiced in many different settings, such as hospitals, psychiatric and rehabilitation facilities, wellness centers, schools and senior centers. National requirements for entry into the practice of art therapy include a master’s degree and extensive post-graduate clinical experience.


In a 2015 statement the Art Therapy Association says that it “supports the use of coloring books for pleasure and self-care, however these uses should not be confused with the delivery of professional art therapy services.”

Coloring is however, is a simple, convenient, inexpensive activity that may provide some benefit. Flett and colleagues conclude that their “preliminary investigation suggests that coloring is associated with small, short-term improvements in depressive symptoms and anxiety.”

For more on art therapy see The American Art Therapy Association.



AnxietyBipolar DisordersDepression


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