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The Elusive Pack of 100 Colored Pencils

Coloring books are just about everywhere right now. If you didn’t get one as a gift over the holidays, you’ve definitely seen them in Target or Barnes and Noble. Adult coloring books are so popular that they were partly responsible for a spike in printed media in 2015 in the US.

So what’s the deal? Why are our grown-up friends and family members (not to mention our therapists!) curling up on couches across the country to … color?

Humans have been using art as therapy for hundreds of years. In Tibet, it’s a common practice of many monks to create mandalas, beautiful and repetitive works of art created from colored sand. The monks pray over the mandalas, and then wash the mandalas away, to carry their blessings to distant shores. In many American Indian cultures and Mayan cultures, circles and repetition are used to convey and promote healing; we even see this in our own culture, like when we say we’re “bringing things full circle.”

Coloring methodically in a repetitive circle is used in a lot of art therapy modalities, and these coloring books are bringing the healing to our own couches! Now, in our fast-paced, bustling lives, it’s easy to think of something like coloring a mandala to be pointless or unproductive, but I really think that that’s part of their beauty, too. Isn’t it worth doing something soothing just for soothing’s sake? What a gracious relief it must be to our brains to spend some intentional time on something as light and easy as coloring a mandala. You might even take a stab at a free-hand mandala, because we could all use a reminder that nothing is perfect.

In fact, a lot of neurobiologists and neuropsychologists are curious about the affects that coloring is having on our brains. Coloring engages our pre-frontal cortex in what we call “low level brain activity:” enough to keep your focus, but not enough to overwork you. Our pre-frontal cortex is where a lot of our fancy-pants higher functioning and reasoning skills live. It works all day, helping us make choices that keep us safe and happy. A lot of neuroscientists are arguing that engaging your pre-frontal cortex in low level activity like coloring is incredibly relaxing to your brain: ‘which color to choose for this swirl’ is likely a much easier decision for your brain than ‘how to ask for a raise at work.”

In fact, just reminding us of the simplicity of life might be one of the reasons that coloring has become so popular. There’s a huge link between our relationship with our inner child and our overall self-esteem. Think about times when you’ve felt your self-worth was taking a hit, or you were grappling with your own insecurities. It’s likely that the negative beliefs you were having about yourself were things you picked up along the way from difficult situations in your life. Re-visiting those younger times and soothing that part of yourself can help to heal some of those wounds.

So color on, friends! There are lots of good self-care opportunities involving coloring, and lots of good reasons to do it. Might I also suggest your favorite soothing music while you color, or maybe a lavender scented candle for relaxation? Check out our self-soothe kit post for some ideas. One of my favorite things about the adult coloring fad has been indulging my inner child with that 100-color pack of colored pencils that I wasn’t allowed to have when I was younger! Treat yo’ self! 

Many of our Therapy Austin clinicians are trained in art therapy, which can been a deep and symbolic experience for clients. Request an appointment if you’ve got the itch to color and heal!

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