Does Coloring Work To Relieve Stress?

If you received a coloring book as a holiday gift, you're definitely not alone — coloring books for adults are insanely popular, holding nine of 20 spots on Amazon's bestselling list for 2015 (via The National Book Review). Adult coloring books look lovely, come in a wide variety of types, and are a relatively inexpensive form of entertainment accessible to most. Creators and advocates enthusiastically claim that using them has many benefits, especially including stress relief. But do adult coloring books actually work?

There's some evidence that art therapy can help those who are struggling with a medical diagnosis, from cancer to anxiety, depression, and PTSD. But, as one person pointed out, effective art therapy typically involves creating art from scratch (not just coloring in the lines on someone else's art).

Some of the criticism of coloring books seems to be based upon the assumption that adults are somehow regressing to a childlike state when they choose to use them. Indeed, people seem worried in general that adults are turning into children, or staying too immature for too long.

But I just can't bring myself to worry too much about this aspect of coloring books for adults. They're no more juvenile or empty of a form of entertainment than most of the other forms on offer, like reality television shows, or trashy fiction. Not everyone can or will fill her time reading Shakespeare and listening to Mozart, after all. And we know, too, that too much television has ill mental and physical effects, so basically anything else is better.

Maybe the reasons adults turn to coloring books are actually about the same as children's reasons — coloring in a coloring book is relaxing, offers an opportunity to do things your way, and gives you an outlet for creating something that's not entirely mindless, but that's not too hard either. At the end of a long day of school (or work), that may be just what the doctor ordered, whether coloring has far-reaching psychological healing powers or not. An activity doesn't have to count as "therapy," strictly speaking, to be semi-therapeutic, or merely enjoyable. With all these new adult colorers spawned this year (thanks Amazon!) maybe we will have some new evidence about coloring to draw on soon.

For more inspiration, check out Bustle on YouTube.

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