Yes, you did read that correctly. Colouring in. An activity that is typically reserved for kids and involves a set of colored pencils or markers and some black and white illustrations.
It sounds strange at first, but it turns out that adult colouring has become an incredibly popular activity over the last year or so. Just type “coloring” into Amazon and you’ll see the enormous amount of adult colouring books available. When I first started researching this topic earlier this year, 2 of the 3 top bestselling books on Amazon were adult colouring books created by Johanna Basford. Now, over 2 million copies of her books have been sold, which isn’t surprising given that her illustrations are quite magnificent.
So what is this new trend all about?
So why are adults spending time performing an activity that many would feel is not a particularly ‘grown up’ thing to do?
For a few really good reasons, it seems. Research suggests that for many, the process of colouring in helps to combat stress, reduce anxiety, and ‘quieten’ the mind, with some psychologists also reporting that colouring results in an increased ability to think creatively. Colouring also seems to have become an alternative practice for those who struggle with meditation, providing the same kind of calm, focused attention and relaxing effect.
Anecdotally it seems that many adults are simply finding the activity to be quite enjoyable once they’ve tried it, often describing the experience as one which helps to provide a ‘mental break’. On her website Basford comments that most people haven’t engaged in colouring activities since childhood, and that “coloring seems to help people think about a time when life was simpler and more carefree”.
The trend has also been picked up in business, with some of Australia’s largest organisations purchasing colouring books as a way of helping employees to more effectively handle stress and improve wellbeing.
Indeed, a 2014 study reported in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology identified a link between engaging in creative activity and demonstrating improved stress tolerance and work performance.
The authors encouraged organisations to consider professional development opportunities for employees that involve creative activities, and to promote creative activity in the same way that healthy eating and exercise are emphasised.
The Science behind Colouring
An explanation of the brain science behind colouring can be found on the Colourtation website, with Stan Rodski (a Melbourne-based Psychologist and Neuroscientist) explaining that colouring helps the brain to “manually change gears” from a stressed and pressured state to a more relaxed, calm state.
To get a little bit more scientific with that explanation, this shift in ‘gears’ occurs when brainwave patterns change from ‘beta’ (pressured and stressed) to ‘alpha’ (more relaxed) waves. The same state of brain activity is achieved from a range of other relaxing activities that adults regularly engage in – although not typically within the workplace (e.g. listening to music, meditating, watching TV).
Given the growing focus on mindfulness and meditation within leadership and employee populations, this trend will be an interesting trend to watch.
My Colouring Experience
When I first started researching this topic, I decided to try it out for myself of course – and quickly became hooked. Personally, adult colouring gets a big ‘thumbs up’ from me.
For me the experience is exactly as others described it – within the first few minutes of colouring I usually start to feel extremely relaxed and calm, and often find myself thinking a bit more creatively. Now I regularly use colouring as a break when completing mentally challenging tasks, especially if I find myself a bit ‘stuck’. I find that the process of colouring allows my mind to just ‘wander’ by itself, often resulting in some new or alternative ideas surfacing.
The other reason I enjoy colouring so much? Because it creates an opportunity for both my mind and my body to be simultaneously quiet – a rare occurrence for me given the constant juggle of being a professional working mother. So in my house and office, the ‘research’ will continue – and my collection of adult colouring books will keep on growing.