When Johanna Brasford, famed illustrator and creator of the now best-selling Secret Garden, decided to design a coloring book strictly for grown-ups, she couldn't have guessed what a sensation it would become. Since it hit shelves, crayon packs and weekly coloring meet-ups and groups have been created exclusively for adults. But this childhood pastime isn't just a niche hobby. It's also healthy, according to researchers.
Jennifer Forrister, a licensed professional counselor at InMind Counseling and Wellness in Georgia, has recognized the mental health benefits.
"[Coloring] slows down breathing and heart rate," she told The Atlanta-Journal Constitution. "It can be really beneficial for clients with generalized anxiety disorder, depression or other diagnoses associated with anxiety such as PTSD...I've started recommending the use of adult coloring books to members of my dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) group."
Research supports her analysis, too. In 2005, the Journal of the American Art Therapy Association published a report that concluded how coloring mandalas, round frames with geometric patterns inside, can help reduce feelings of distress in patients suffering from anxiety.
The physical act of coloring has also been shown to lower heart rate and respiration while loosening muscles, stimulating the brain and boosting concentration and productivity.
In Forrister's DBT group, clients are taught to focus on their five senses.
"When a person intentionally practices certain DBT skills, such as self-soothing, one-mind activities [like coloring], the brain receives a different, more calming signal. If a person is one-mindfully focused on coloring, the brain isn't flooded with negative self-talk," she said.
She notes that by paying attention to the colors, shapes and forms, overall picture and the feel of the crayon, you can force the brain to focus on the current activity.
"Plus," she says. "It's just fun!"
Want to give it a try yourself? Grab your crayons and colored pencils, and try one of these fun printable pages.