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Colouring for Mindfulness, Stress Therapy, Concentration and Memory

The adult colouring book is the new therapy for stress. They call them Mindfulness Colouring Books because they’re supposed to help you practice mindfulness – which we all know is good for the mind and body. When it comes to practising mindfulness, it gets a bit challenging because it’s difficult to sit still and be aware of the present. Colouring books give our eyes something to focus on and our hands something to fiddle with and that makes all the difference.

Do Adult Colouring Books Really Work?

Way back before G2 was born and G1 still thought colouring books were “cool” and not just for “little kids”, I used to sit beside him and colour in the pictures. The pictures I worked on were Sesame Street, Thomas the Tank Engine, and other kiddie characters that G1 fancied at the time. Although they were nothing so sophisticated as the mandala patterns that dominate the themes of many adult colouring books, I must say that the action of colouring did feel calming and therapeutic. Of course, it was just a feeling and hardly scientific since there were no brain probes to prove that there really was a positive effect on my brain, but I subscribe to the theory that if you feel good, then surely something good is happening inside too.

Evidently, I’m not the only one who thinks so because Adult Colouring Books are all the rage now:

“If you asked me why people love them so much I’d say the answer is one word: ‘screen’. We spend so much of our lives watching TV, squinting at the virtual world on our smartphones, and working on our computers, that it’s a real relief to get immersed in a hands-on, creative activity. The paradox of concentrating hard on something so intricate and visual is that you feel relaxed and energised at the end – and, of course, you’ve made something beautiful.” – Roly Allen, SMH

“We are constantly bombarded with technology, you can download apps to your phone in a few seconds and it’s too much for us to take in. Colouring allows us to go back to a slower pace and I think people appreciate that.” – Richard Merritt (author of the Anti-Stress Colouring Book series), Huffington Post

Doodling Improves Memory and Concentration

In a 2009 study by Andrade, they found that subjects who doodled had better attention and memories. The theory is that doodling helps the mind stay engaged – it’s a little like a car idling instead of having the engine turned off.

It wasn’t just their attention that was enhanced, though, doodling also benefited memory. Afterwards participants were given a surprise memory test, after being specifically told they didn’t have to remember anything. Once again doodlers performed better, in fact almost 30% better. – Psyblog

If doodling is good for the mind and an activity not all that different from colouring, then could colouring have the same effect on memory and concentration? It is entirely possible.

And if that’s the case, then maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to whisk our children away from colouring books and doodling on paper. Perhaps we should also encourage our older children to return to that favourite childhood activity of colouring?

A Basic Form of Art Therapy

Art Therapy has been used to help children facing mental and emotional challenges. It can provide the following benefits:

  • Self-discovery. At its most successful, art therapy triggers an emotional catharsis (a sense of relief and well-being through the recognition and acknowledgement of subconscious feelings).
  • Personal fulfilment. The creation of a tangible reward can build confidence and nurture feelings of self-worth. Personal fulfilment comes from both the creative and the analytical components of the process.
  • Empowerment. Art therapy can help individuals visually express emotions and fears that they were never able to articulate through conventional means, and give them some sense of control over these feelings.
  • Relaxation and stress relief. Chronic stress can be harmful to both mind and body. It can weaken and damage the immune system, cause insomnia and depression, and trigger a host of circulatory problems (e.g., high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, and cardiac arrhythmia). When used alone or in combination with other relaxation techniques such as guided imagery, art therapy can be a potent stress reliever.
  • Symptom relief and physical rehabilitation. Art therapy can also help individuals cope with pain and promote physiological healing by identifying and working through anger and resentment issues and other emotional stresses.

Although colouring isn’t exactly art therapy, it can be likened to art therapy in its most basic form because the choice of colours and their application is entirely up to the individual. The final creation is an expression of the individual. Since many of us struggle with our artistic endeavours, colouring can offer an easy medium for expression.

Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of (a website on parenting, education, child development) and (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

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