Adult coloring books have become a bit of a phenomenon recently. Casual artists of all ages can sit down and relax with some crayons, markers or colored pencils and fill in a book based on things they like—such as "Harry Potter," animals or even just aesthetically pleasing designs. The Washington Post reported that adult coloring books may be good for more than just a fun way to pass the time. Some people have used it as real therapy. But is it as effective as some people think?
Joanne Schwandes, a 67-year old from Maryland, told The Washington Post that using coloring books has boosted her confidence in her motor skills, which were weakened by a tremor in her arm. Another woman told the news outlet that coloring helps her keep calm during turbulent times as a parent.
NBC News ran a story about how some adults come together to color, like how some might meet for a book club. According to NBC News, adult coloring books currently are outselling cookbooks in France, and Amazon has about 2,260 adult coloring book titles available.
Craig Sawchuk, a clinical psychologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., told The Washington Post that coloring books have similar effects as other mindfulness techniques, like yoga or meditation.
"[These techniques work] almost like a volume knob to turn down the sympathetic nervous system, the stress response," Sawchuk told The Washington Post. "The gentle pressing of the crayon or pencil on the page, the texture of the paper across your hand, and the soft sounds of the coloring instrument moving back and forth in a rhythmic fashion."
While there aren't any large clinical studies about coloring books and their therapeutic benefits, art therapists regularly use coloring books in their work.
"There's a self-soothing meditative benefit because you are doing the same motion over and over, especially with symmetrical drawings," Lina Assad Cates, a psychotherapist and art therapist in Washington D.C., told The Washington Post. "The books help create boundaries—the literal boundaries of the lines and the metaphorical boundaries for drawing healthy boundaries in relationships. There's also the potential benefit of just mastering something you've created."
The numbers don't lie, coloring books have become a bona fide phenomenon in the U.S. According to Quartz, sales of coloring books in the U.S. shot up from 1 million to 12 million units in 2015 alone. Heck, the craze even caused double-digit growth for many pencil manufacturers, The Standard reported.
In the Quartz article, author Thu-Huong Ha argued that many Americans are using adult coloring books to deal with stress and anxiety wrong. Ha wrote that it can sooth the symptoms of stress and anxiety, but shouldn't replace professional service. Ha cited a statement from the American Art Therapy Association:
The American Art Therapy Association supports the use of coloring books for pleasure and self-care, however these uses should not be confused with the delivery of professional art therapy services, during which a client engages with a credentialed art therapist.
Quartz reported that, according to the American Psychological Association, Americans reported being more stressed last year than in 2014, with many saying that their stress levels are unhealthy thanks to things like work and money.
The somewhat mindless activity of filling in a coloring book page can actually inhibit creativity in children, but for adults shouldering the burdens of grief or stress, it could allow for a quick dose of calm.
Burned out adults, on the other hand, can be overwhelmed by a blank page. For them, selecting colors to fill in the lines may be all the creativity they can muster. And that makes sense. It's precisely colorings noncommittal not-quite-therapy, not-quite-art qualities that make it compelling. The activity takes less energy than jogging or yoga, is easier than picking up knitting, and is more productive than watching "House of Cards" (or can be done alongside it). Easier than yoga or meditation, it offers low-stake quick-hit escapism wrapped in the faddish trappings of self-medications.
Despite the conflicting ideas regarding the helpfulness of adult coloring books, a couple things are very clear: Many people are using coloring books (sometimes exclusively) and seeing results from their therapeutic qualities. And they're selling in huge numbers.
For the promotional products industry, this could open up many doors for selling to certain industries, like health care or education.
What do you think? Are coloring books a useful tool for relaxation and therapy? Or are they a fad, and a way for Americans to self-medicate rather than seek professional help? Where could they work in the promotional industry?