Stress is normal but...

The stressful lives in the cities leave little room for creativity and self-satisfaction.  Activities for most people are directed at efficiency and productivity in an environment that makes clear that the trade-off is money and not a real belonging to the success of any enterprise. Money cannot buy everything, and what it buys is meaningless if the cost for obtaining it deprives us of our sense of humanity. On the other hand, today people are affected by the consequences of the recent financial crisis. We are feeling unsafe and insecure without access to basic needs such as jobs, health care, a pension fund, and recreation.  

Stress is part of our lives, it has always been. Our bodies are capable of handling stress and making it part of the tools that enable us to advance in both boring and demanding tasks. When we perceive an event as stressful our bodies react with a complex of emotional, psychological and physiological responses than in the ancient past served us to survive (Grant-Viagas, 2001).  Long-term exposure to stress is harmful to our bodies and it is the source of many of the common ailments of our days. Grant-Viagas (2001) says that there are two sides of stress that are sickening. One is the addictive nature of the good feeling vibe of a thrilling experience and the other one is the inability of removing the cause of a life-threatening stress in the long-term. In the first case, as any addiction, the search for more and more will deplete the stress hormones as much as in the second case. The depletion of the stress hormones that help our bodies to react to the stressful situations is responsible for the losses of all other natural energy sources in our organisms. (Grant-Viagas, 2001). Once people get to this point, they are burnt out or exhausted and their life feels empty and endangered. 

Blank Design
Credit: Maria Dorland @ 2017

Coloring Books as a Therapy

Several techniques are available to help people to deal with the unavoidable stress of our daily lives. Art therapy is one of these methods. Art therapy connects our creative power with our happiness. Experiencing color, music, stories and the ability to create beauty or healing experiences help to balance our system to cope better with stress. Coloring books are part of the art therapy techniques. 

Coloring books for adults are everywhere from bookshops to supermarkets. They offer hundreds of blank pages with empty designs. The designs are diverse, from a mandala to cityscapes. There are books with flowers, animals, children, food and whimsical imagery.  There are also coloring books for special occasions such as Christmas, Easter, New Year or birthdays, and others addressing topics such as architecture, fashion, sports, cars or faith.

The topics of the books are usually related to things we like and make us feel connected to nature, family, happy occasions or dreaming and other relaxing activities. The texture of the books and the colors also evoke those days of free creativity in our early school days. They have a soothing effect related to the opposite of the causes of stress because they help us to retrieve memories of when we felt protected and happy. 

It is not strange that these books are popular as our brains can connect experiences with bodily sensations. This is known as embodied cognition and embodied memory. There is a lot of research on the topic, but if we think about the behaviorist psychologists such as Skinner, who claimed that children learn by positive and negative rewards and punishments, the concept is easy to understand. For example, for the behaviorist, if you do not want your children to come late home you could inflict a painful punishment. As a result, you children will remember the pain and as a way to avoid it, they will not come late home.

Art therapy and coloring books for adults do not seek to condition us, but rather to look for those memories that relate to positive feelings, relaxation, happiness, love, safety, etc. Researchers of embodied cognition state that our body will react as a whole, including even hormonal responses.

Cool colors help to calm our senses and body
Credit: Maria Dorland @ 2017

Blue, violet, pink are cool colors related to peace and tranquility. White, gray and black are considered neutral colors. 

Color Therapy and Coloring Books

Wildwood(1997) introduces the color therapy, a concept that links the tones and intensity of colors with our well-being. She classifies colors into warm and cool categories, the former energize and boost vitality while the latter calm and restore inner peace. For example, in the scale of the warm colors, she recommends red as an adrenal tonic, helpful for exhaustion, yellow for energizing the muscular and lymphatic systems and orange to activate the thyroid gland and the respiratory system.  On the other hand, in the scale of the cool colors, she recommends, blue for relieving inflammation, lowering blood pressure and promoting tranquillity, green is a tonic color that strengthens the immune system without stimulating the nervous system, and it helps in cases of anxiety together with violet, that also helps with insomnia and pain relief. 

This theory is clearly connected to the idea of coloring books for adults because you can pick up the right colors to setting up a scenery that is relaxing or energizing, depending on your mood. It sounds natural, that with our ability to link memories with bodily sensations, we relate yellow, red, orange with daylight, the sun, fire, summer etc., and blue, green and violet with night, dawn, rivers, grass, trees and the like. The design of these books taps into these inner resources to help us to restore inner balance.

Warm Colors boost our energy and confidence
Credit: Maria Dorland @ 2017

Red, orange and yellow are warm colors that boost our vitality and confidence. The combination of cool and warm colors helps to balance our energy needs.

Use your Creativity

There is not a right or wrong technique to color these books. You can use any media, from color pencils to oil painting. You can also combine the different media to create the artwork, such as highlighters and ink. you can apply the media with your hands, brushes, sponges or any other tool you would like to use. The advantage of the predefined sketches is that you do not need to know how to draw to experience the pleasure of playing with color and producing a piece of art that is meaningful for you and your circumstances. 

It is also true that you do not need to buy these books to experience art therapy, you can design your own or even download sketches from the web. What is astonishing is that they have proliferated in the last three years and the reason behind could be a response to the global and massive stressful effects that the financial crisis produced. They promote a way to relax and enjoy simple things again as when we were children and the future was full of possibilities.