By Elaine Spencer, Psy.D. Licensed Psychologist
I walked into Michaels Craft store the other day and was pleasantly surprised to see the front display was advertising coloring books for adults and I thought to myself, “Wow! Coloring really is the new craze!”
So What is This New Coloring Phenomenon All About?
The simple answer is that coloring can actually be therapeutic. If you were like me as a child, you spent hours with your coloring books and your parents probably thought you enjoyed coloring because ‘that’s what kids do’. We now know that children are on to something because not only is coloring fun, but coloring can also actually be relaxing and anxiety reducing.
The idea of therapeutic coloring isn’t exactly new. Many of the adult coloring books that are popular now are based on an ancient art form called Mandalas. A Mandala is a symbolic piece of art, often found in the shape of a circle because in the ancient Sanskirt language, mandala means “circle.” Mandalas have been an important part of meditation practice in many Eastern religions for years, and in more recent times it has made its way west. Carl Jung, a famous psychoanalyst, used mandalas in psychotherapy and referred to the mandala as “a representation of the unconscious self.” Today, the art form of mandalas is used by psychologists, art therapists and other mental health professionals as a way to help reduce anxiety and increase relaxation.
Why Does Coloring Work?
Mandalas can vary from simple designs to very intricate pieces of art. When you are coloring the mandala, no matter the complexity, you are engaging in a rhythmic action that is meditative and calming to your brain. You are, in a sense, forcing your brain to be present and not allowing it to race into the future as the anxious brain likes to do. This coloring within the structure of the mandala helps to quiet the part of our brain that creates that inner dialogue of constant questioning, criticism and worry.
I work with children, tweens and teens who are struggling with anxiety, depression and perfectionism. They have difficulty finding coping skills on their own to manage these issues and need assistance in learning to relax. To do this, I help my clients create a “tool box” of coping skills to manage difficult feelings and behaviors. Recently, I have been incorporating the art of mandalas into this tool box our work and many of my clients are finding it very effective to do both in session and at home to decrease anxiety and increase their inner sense of peace.
When I work on mandalas with my clients, I emphasize that creating the mandalas is about the process, not the finished product so the design does not have to be perfect. There is not a right or wrong way to create mandala art. Mandala coloring is about going at your own pace and using your own creative ideas to steer the direction of your art. No matter what the end result is, my clients feel proud of themselves when they complete a mandala and that sense of accomplishment helps not only to relax them but to build their self-esteem.
If you are interested in getting in touch with your creative side, mandalas are easy to find at places such as, Michaels and Amazon.com. You can also find free mandalas online ranging from simple forms for children to more intricate designs for the advanced colorer. So grab your color pencils, crayons and markers and “Keep Calm and Color On!”
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