Coloring Your World

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?

By coloring.

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.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The RheumatoidArthritis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

View Comments (5)
  • Wesmoms
    3 years ago

    First, please allow me to say thank you for your service. I’m 36, and have Lupus, RA, chronic fatigue syndrome, and RSD. I’m always in pain, never feel well, and often can’t do things like listen to music because I can’t stand noise (even low noise). My mom got me a set of colored pencils and also a set of watercolor pencils, both labeled “soft grip”. I adore the pencils because I can doodle/color for a longer period. They aren’t quite as smooth as prisma color pencils, but have vivid colors and a good range of hues. Along with those pencils, I was given a few adult coloring books. However, I find that most of the time, I’m too shaky to color the tiny, very detailed pictures in most adult books; so I often get out of the lines, which is irritating. Do you know of any adult oriented books that are not quite as intricate and detailed? I looked up “coloring books for adults with arthritis” and only found a couple of books, but they seem just as small and intricate as most others. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance.

  • Wren moderator author
    3 years ago

    Hi, Wesmom!

    You brought up an excellent point: what about those of us who can’t very comfortably hold pencils and pens, and how about those who really want to color, but have to cope with shaking, etc. in order to do so. Intricate details can be a real problem–my own hands tire and get sore quickly, particularly with detailed work. And for some of us, details can be hard to see, as well. (Yes, I’m getting old…)

    So, I went on an Amazon search and, remembering the coloring books of my childhood, decided to check those made for children or all-ages that were high quality, but less detailed.

    I think I may have hit paydirt, Wesmoms!

    First, go to Amazon.com and search Children’s Coloring Books. H.R. Wallace Publishing (here’s the link to its page: http://www.amazon.com/H.R.-Wallace-Publishing/e/B00PYKKM5Y/ref=dp_byline_cont_book_2) has some wonderful books. I liked All About Autumn, Adorable Animals, and (my personal favorite–I ordered it, thank you!) Incredibly Cute Cats. Many of the drawings in these books are larger and with fewer small details, and most are also really nicely drawn, as well. I’ve found some children’s color books are shoddily drawn by people with questionable talent…).

    Another good one I found was Winter Scenes, from Creative Haven Coloring Books. They have many, many others to choose from, of course.

    Those should give you a start, anyway. For those who have issues with holding pencils or pens, I’ve found that pencil grips help a lot. They slide over the pencil’s end, making it thicker and padded for tender fingers. Here’s the link to some I purchased for myself not long ago: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B004Y4H9MK?psc=1&redirect=true&ref_=oh_aui_detailpage_o07_s00

    I hope this helps you enjoy many, many hours of peaceful and relaxing coloring. Stop back by again and let me know if my suggestions helped, OK?

    Wishing you the best. Thanks for taking the time to comment. 🙂

  • Kayla Gallo
    3 years ago

    I was so excited to see someone write about this; I LOVE coloring! It takes my concentration off of my pain and onto the paper. A couple months ago I started looking at adult coloring books on Amazon and found a treasure trove. There’s a brand called Creative Haven that are my personal favorites. They have a ton of different themes and new ones are always coming out. I highly recommend them! After that I splurged and bought a set of Prismacolor colored pencils, they’re expensive but fantastic. I’m glad someone is as passionate about coloring as I am!

  • jan curtice
    3 years ago

    I confess … I have several adult coloring books and love them. Some are nature pictures, others designs. They provide a therapeutic bridge between pain-relief and my symptoms, especially when I’m in a fog. When I finish my pictures, I usually donate them to some place like the VA hospital, nursing home, etc. Frames are cheap at the dollar stores. These places are always excited to receive the pictures. A tip on using colored pencils. Dipping the pencils in water gives them a painting effect. Hope you also are able to renew your joy of opening the crayon box!

  • Wesmoms
    3 years ago

    Thank you so much, Wren, for your suggestions! I purchased the pencil grips, and they have made such a difference. I also got the snowflake and adorable animals books. I came across a website called “colouring in the midst of madness” https://colouringinthemidstofmadness.wordpress.com yesterday, and I thought I’d share it. She has reviews on everything from coloring utensils to books, and each review is incredibly detailed. She reviews from a mental health perspective, but covers everything from how good vision and fine motor skills must be to the intricacy of each book. She also shows some of the pages of each book. I found it to be very helpful, and thought others might also. 🙂

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