Coloring Your World
As I’ve rambled the colorful back roads and wandered the animated, bazaar-like streets of the Internet’s social media world during the last few months, I’ve noticed some interesting things. One of them in particular made me pause and think: art therapy.
I googled. Art therapy is a form of mental health therapy that includes the visual arts, like drawing, painting, or sculpting. According to the American Art Therapy Association, art psychotherapists use it to help their mentally disabled clients “explore their feelings, reconcile emotional conflicts, foster self-awareness, manage behavior and addictions, develop social skills, improve reality orientation, reduce anxiety, and increase self-esteem.”
But the art therapy I was hearing about on the Internet isn’t limited to those who are mentally disabled. Instead, it’s skyrocketing outside the clinical setting. This art therapy is for anyone who simply needs a good mental rest. How?
Yep. You read that right. Coloring, just like you used to do with your battered box of blunt, broken crayons and a coloring book when you were a little kid. Remember how it felt? I do. I loved getting down on the carpeted floor, stretching out on my tummy, and opening my coloring book with its thick, newsprint pages and printed, black line drawings. I loved the smell and feel of the paper and the way it sounded as I leafed through it. I’d pick a drawing, study it for a while, and then slide the first crayon out of the box. Lemon Yellow? Burnt Sienna? Carnation Pink? Scarlet? Royal Blue? Forest Green? To this day, the aroma of wax crayons can conjure up in my mind clear memories of my six-year-old self, a quiet little girl who carefully colored drawings of St. George and the Dragon, or the Princess and the Pea, my whole being concentrated on the pictures, the colors, and the story they told.
The coloring books people are talking about on social media, though, aren’t for kids (although kids could certainly color them if they wanted). They’re for today’s busy, stressed adults of all ages who’ve taken up coloring as an easy, enjoyable, non-demanding way to disconnect from today’s always-on, demanding, screen-centric, go-go-go world.
These adults color to just relax. They use colored pencils, gel pens, or even paints. The drawings in these adult coloring books are complex and intricate–they gently demand focus–and include drawing of scenes from stories, from nature, and from everyday life. Books full of mandalas and patterns are popular, too, and can give the pastime a spiritual flavor.
All of them require thought and various levels of concentration. The idea is to spark long-dormant creativity and to savor the joy of doing something for fun just because you can. Frivolous, you say? Only if you think unrelieved stress is beneficial.
Living with rheumatoid disease can cause devastating feelings of isolation, loss of self-esteem, constant, unrelieved stress, and (not surprisingly) depression. It also causes pain that can be severe and disabling, fatigue, and malaise. But I’ve found that art therapy–coloring in adult coloring books or creating my own drawings and coloring them in–is a sure-fire form of relaxation and stress relief. When I’m doing those things, my mind is not on my disease.
Pain and illness that never really goes away is exceedingly difficult to ignore. It creeps into everything you do. But when the mind is distracted from pain and worry, and focused on something pleasant, like creating art (and yes, coloring is creating art!) your mind will be able to rest. It’s soothing and conjures up feelings of satisfaction, comfort, and even joy.
There’s real science behind it. In the process of drawing or coloring a picture, we’re using both the right and left sides of the brain. The amygdala, the primitive fight-or-flight center of the brain, can relax. Coloring also stimulates the brain to release feel-good hormones and chemicals like endorphins and serotonin. Coloring relaxes the mind–and it can rest.
I realize that not everyone who has RD can try this form of relaxation therapy. I can’t always do it; sometimes my hands are too painful to grasp colored pencils and push to make color on paper. At those times, I turn to other forms of relaxation/distraction therapy, like reading, listening to music, or watching a good movie.
If you’re interested, art therapy is worth looking into. The coloring books are inexpensive, and most of the mediums–colored pencils, gel-pens, and markers–are as well, unless you get into the high-quality stuff. I have both, and I use them all.