Colouring Books

The Therapeutic Magic of Colouring Books

Art therapy has become a widely embraced practice across various settings, serving as a valuable tool to assist people dealing with trauma, reducing stress, alleviating anxiety, processing emotions, fostering improved self-esteem, addressing addictions, and managing depression.

Medical professionals acknowledge the effectiveness of art therapy in awakening specific areas of the brain associated with memory and fear processing, providing insights into individuals’ behaviours and motivations.

Colouring books provide a structured and non-threatening way for people to express their emotions. For people with PTSD or C-PTSD, who may find verbalising their experiences challenging, the act of choosing colours, blending shades, and filling in intricate designs serves as a silent but powerful form of self-expression. The process can be particularly liberating, allowing individuals to externalise complex emotions that might be difficult to articulate verbally.

Moreover, colouring stimulates the brain’s reward centre, releasing dopamine, the “feel-good” neurotransmitter. This not only provides a natural mood boost but also reinforces positive behaviours. For someone dealing with the often debilitating effects of PTSD or C-PTSD, this positive reinforcement can be a vital aspect of the recovery journey.

While adult colouring isn’t a substitute for professional art therapy, many find it to be a therapeutic and enjoyable activity. It’s a wonderful way to unwind and tap into your creative side without the need for formal therapy sessions.

Colouring is being recognised for its potential to offer similar mental and physical benefits as practices like meditation and yoga, creating positive reactions in the brain that contribute to overall well-being.

How can colouring help?

  • Alternative to Meditation: Recommended by psychologists, colouring serves as an alternative to meditation for relaxation, diverting focus from intrusive thoughts prevalent in PTSD and C-PTSD.
  • Makes you feel good: colouring stimulates the brain’s reward centres, releasing dopamine, the “feel-good” neurotransmitter. This not only provides a natural mood boost but also reinforces positive behaviours.
  • Improved focus and concentration: Engaging in colouring activates parts of the brain associated with focus and concentration. This creative activity offers a valuable opportunity to detach from stressful thoughts and immerse oneself in a calming and focused experience.
  • Improved organisation and problem solving: The act of colouring activates your frontal lobe, the part of your brain responsible for organisation and problem-solving. This means that as you choose colours, navigate intricate patterns, and make creative decisions, you’re giving your brain a focused and beneficial workout.
  • Decreased fear and anxiety: Colouring books have emerged as a valuable therapy for PTSD and C-PTSD, demonstrating the ability to reduce amygdala activity in the brain. This reduction in amygdala activity translates to a decreased reaction to fear and anxiety. The calming effect on the amygdala plays a crucial role in training the body to recognise that a fear response is unnecessary and that it is safe not to panic in triggering situations.
  • Mindfulness Practice: Colouring promotes mindfulness, allowing individuals to replace negative thoughts with positive ones, reducing anxiety, and providing a powerful method to focus on the present moment, especially during medical treatments and therapies.

IMPORTANT NOTE: We often come across the idea that colouring can evoke feelings of nostalgia, reconnecting individuals with a ‘simpler’, happier time reminiscent of childhood joy and escape. Yet, considering the prevalence of childhood trauma and childhood abuse within our community of supporters, it’s crucial to acknowledge that this experience may not resonate with everyone. Whilst some people may feel it offers a chance to ‘reclaim’ elements from childhood, it’s equally important not to place any undue pressure on yourself. If colouring doesn’t feel right for you, it’s completely ok to step away and prioritise your comfort and well-being.

The science of colouring

Engaging in adult colouring books isn’t just about creating beautiful pictures; it’s also a workout for your brain. The act of colouring activates your frontal lobe, the part of your brain responsible for organisation and problem-solving. This means that as you choose colours, navigate intricate patterns, and make creative decisions, you’re giving your brain a focused and beneficial workout.

  • Research conducted at the University of Otago in New Zealand reveals that adults can experience significant mental health benefits by engaging in colouring for as little as 10 minutes a day.
  • A 2006 study demonstrated the positive impact of mindfulness art therapy on women undergoing cancer treatment. Researchers observed a significant reduction in both physical and emotional distress symptoms among participants, highlighting the potential therapeutic benefits of incorporating mindfulness art therapy into the care of individuals facing cancer.
  • In a recent study, researchers examined the efficacy of colouring complex geometric designs, such as mandalas, in reducing anxiety among a group of undergraduate students. The findings indicated a notable decrease in anxiety levels, suggesting that engaging in this practice induced a meditative state, which proved beneficial for anxiety reduction.

How to colour for mental health

One of the benefits of colouring in, is that you can do it anywhere.  Whether at home, in a waiting room, or during moments of heightened stress, you can turn to colouring as a versatile tool for managing PTSD or C-PTSD symptoms.

Colouring is all about having fun and ease, and there’s no right or wrong way to do it! It’s not a competition, so there’s no need to rush or worry about finishing a picture in one go.

Take your time – colour for as long or as little as you like (research has shown that as little as 10 minutes per day can make a significant difference to stress and anxiety levels). Don’t worry about how it looks; what matters is that you enjoy the process and find relaxation in the simple joy of colouring.

Approach colouring without judgment  or expectations – just go with the flow and  enjoy the moment. If your mind starts to  wander, which happens to everyone, gently  bring your focus back to what you’re  doing right now.

Keep an eye on your breathing – Take nice, deep breaths from your belly, and every  now and then, tune in to your heart rate if you can.

What to colour

Despite the growing popularity of colouring books over recent years, the renowned psychiatrist Carl Jung utilised the creation and colouring of mandalas as a therapeutic tool dating back to the early 1900s.

In Jungian psychology, mandalas were considered the “psychological expression of the totality of the self,” reflecting their profound role in self-discovery and therapy.

In beginning colouring books, you may wish to try out a variety of styles, paper types, designs and methods such as:

  • Mandalas: Mandalas are intricate geometric designs that can provide a calming and meditative colouring experience. The circular patterns are often associated with balance and harmony.
  • Nature Scenes: Colouring scenes of nature, such as landscapes, flowers, or animals, can bring a sense of tranquility. Connecting with the calming elements of nature can be therapeutic.
  • Abstract Patterns: Abstract patterns and designs allow for creative expression without specific representations. This type of colouring can be freeing and provide a sense of control.
  • Positive Affirmations: Colouring pages featuring positive affirmations or inspirational quotes can contribute to a positive mindset and encourage self-compassion.
  • Symmetry and Patterns: Colouring symmetric patterns or repetitive designs can have a soothing effect on the mind. The repetitive nature can be grounding and meditative.

In a world that can feel overwhelming, colouring books offer a retreat into a world of creativity and imagination. This escapism is essential for individuals navigating the challenging terrain of PTSD or C-PTSD, providing a mental break from intrusive memories, fear and anxiety, and fostering a sense of control over one’s thoughts.

Colouring is a great support option for people with PTSD or C-PTSD, especially those who may not see themselves as particularly “creative” or struggle with initiating projects due to procrastination or perfectionism. It serves as valuable practice for overcoming the anxiety and overwhelm often associated with confronting a blank page. Whether it’s colouring pre-drawn pictures, printouts, or pages from a colouring book, having guiding lines on the page makes the creative process about choosing colours that complement each other or convey specific meanings, alleviating the pressure of creating something that looks “good.”

So, grab your gel pens, crayons, colouring pencils or whatever you like, open that colouring book, and begin your empowering journey towards mental well-being.

If you’d like to get colouring, but not sure where to start, you can purchase our Ink and Insights Toolkit here, or our PTSD UK colouring book here

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