Remember when you started learning how to color? Until ~10 years ago, I thought coloring was just for kids. It’s not an adult thing to do.

(Keep scrolling for the video version of this post.)

One of my therapists introduced me to mandala coloring to give me another tool for managing my PTSD (aka PTS, post-traumatic stress—without disorder—which I prefer). And at a women’s empowerment workshop, one of the activities was a session on coloring for adults. We chose from a stack of coloring books geared toward adults, and a pile of colored pens and pencils, chalk/pastels, and good old-fashioned crayons.

I felt so weird at first to sit down and color. This is such a rip-off. I paid a ton of money to get something of value from this workshop, and they want me to color!? Like I’m a kindergartner?!

Long before the hour was over, I found myself going to a freeing, happy place I hadn’t experienced since I was a first grader in Amish school. Coloring had been one of my favorite activities as a kid, because . . .

. . . it was pretty much the only creativity that I (and most little Amish children) was allowed to express. In the one-room school I went to, most of the pupils had art only once a week (on Fridays), but first graders got to color pretty much every day.

However, the older you got, with each passing grade, the less and less you were assigned creative modalities as part of your education. Why?

Because practicing Amish life forbids activating the creative brain beyond what’s absolutely necessary to make you perform better in manual labor. For example, learning motor skills so you can use a pen and pencil, but only for physical/hard labor purposes to earn an income, not for the joy of expressing your inner artist.

Daily or regular drawing, coloring, making 3-dimensional things out of construction paper——whatever terribly limited, rudimentary creative expressions we were allowed to learn—got taken away from us pretty quickly. By the time I was an upper grader (5th through 8th grade), art class happened only once a week.

I can hardly call it art because again, for the most part, we weren’t allowed to do or learn anything beyond coloring stuff, tracing stuff, using glitter, sometimes doing crafty scrapbook-y things, and mostly staying in the realm of 8×11 paper. Drawing assignments consisted of us doing our best to copy something from a book or for the gifted ones, drawing scenes, animals, or objects from memory.

None of us were taught even fundamental drawing skills. That would’ve required teaching us something that had absolutely no functional purpose and value in practice Amish society. It would’ve been zu hoch (too English, or worldly).

Tool #2 – Mandala Coloring

In 2004 Nancy Curry, then an undergrad in psychology and now a licensed clinical social worker, and now Emeritus Professor of Psychology Tim Kasser at Knox College, were what appears to be the first to look into the benefits of coloring “reasonably complex geometric patterns” to reduce anxiety. Per the abstract of their paper published in 2005:

“The study examined the effectiveness of different types of art activities in the reduction of anxiety.

“After undergoing a brief anxiety-induction, 84 undergraduate students were randomly assigned to color a mandala, to color a plaid form, or to color on a blank piece of paper. Results demonstrated that anxiety levels declined approximately the same for the mandala- and plaid-coloring groups and that both of these groups experienced more reduction in anxiety than did the unstructured-coloring group.

“These findings suggest that structured coloring of a reasonably complex geometric pattern may induce a meditative state that benefits individuals suffering from anxiety.”

“The study was significant because no one had ever empirically tested this question with a randomized, experimental design,” Kasser is quoted as saying in the 2015 article “Popularity of Adult Coloring Books Puts a Spotlight on Knox Research” by Niki Acton. “I think the paper is receiving attention again because it has been replicated since its original publication and these new adult coloring books are so popular right now.”

And of course, the Covid-19 pandemic has turned even more of the population toward coloring books for adults.

Although Curry and Kasser’s study didn’t specifically test individuals with PTSD, a 2017 Master’s thesis by Jourdan A. Rodak did. Rodak, a pyschology student, examined the effect of short-term coloring on the stress, anxiety, and working memory of military veterans with PTSD. “When examining the results of participant scores in the mandala coloring condition, it was found that these individuals showed a significant decrease in stress and anxiety.” This was true for both participants with PTSD and those without PTSD.

11 Benefits of Coloring Mandalas – 8 plus 3 bonus benefits!

Here is a list of benefits you could get, based on my personal experience of mandala coloring and backed by a variety of research studies.

IMPORTANT: The research says to color for at least 20 minutes in order to possibly experience benefits and that that “coloring a mandala for 20 minutes is more effective at reducing anxiety than free-form coloring for 20 minutes”.

  • Helps to stabilize your blood pressure
  • Sparks your creativity or gets your creative juices flowing again (or even more)
  • Uses both the analytical and creative parts of your brain, and in a balanced way to stay focussed on just coloring
  • Turns off the incessant amygdala-induced fight, flight, or freeze state
  • Helps you relax and get into a creative flow
  • Reduces your anxiety and stress
  • Brings back memories of the happy parts of your childhood
  • Gives you a feeling of being more free or unburdened
  • Is an alternative to traditional sitting or silent meditation
  • Reconnects you with your inner child
  • You can color outside the lines (literally!) without getting punished

Share this post on social media or with someone you think could benefit from coloring. They don’t have to be diagnosed with PTSD to potentially experience a fun break from pandemic stress!

Stay tuned for Tool #3!

What’s your favorite artistic modality or expression?

Have you tried this tool?

Does it work for you?

I’d love to hear from you!

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Watch the Video (coming soon)

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