The Color of Wellness: Mental Health By Numbers

As children, coloring books were a creature comfort we all turned to. For many of us, the sound of a crayon or colored pencil hitting paper was therapeutic years before ASMR caught on.

Upon our transition into adulthood, many of us have lost that love for coloring. The world becomes complicated and it can be difficult to see reality in anything but shades of grey. 

Fortunately, you don’t have to see the world in black-and-white or shades of grey. With the right tools and resources, you can color in your life the way you choose.

The science supports this – a 2017 study1 published in the Creativity Research Journal found that adult coloring books are a convenient and effective self-help tool when struggling with mental health.

The Secret Origin of Coloring Books

Maybe you’re like me: hesitant to jump in on the adult coloring book craze because it seems childish. The fact that we have to specify we’re talking about adult coloring books may be part of the problem.

The truth is, the concept of coloring to improve mental health or calm anxiety has been around long before the first coloring book was published. Dating as far back as roughly 1,000 years ago, Buddhist monks practiced the art of the  Mandala2  – a “geometric configuration of symbols.”

In an article describing this phenomenon3 that reaches across the millennia, monk Phuntsok Tsering details the feeling of flow that coloring can induce. “Not having any distracting thoughts keeps my mind calm,” he says.

The Mandala2 is still found frequently in New Age thought and practice, originally meant to represent wholeness as a “cosmic diagram that shows the relation to the invite and the world that extends beyond and within various minds & bodies.” 

Shapes and designs in this style have been produced by nearly every culture, people, or religion across history. It seems that in modern times when coloring books rose to prominence, we were actually tapping into an ancient lineage – for whatever reason, coloring things gives us the structure and focus to be creative. 

Why are coloring books good for mental health?

Stress and Anxiety

According to medical experts4, coloring can relax the amygdala – the part of the brain that controls fear or stress. This can also lead to further benefits like mindfulness or a boost in peaceful feelings.

Brain Health

Coloring uses both sides of the brain – logic and creativity are both essential to coloring. This can help your brain communicate with itself or lend to a better frame of mind.


Coloring is a low-stakes hobby. This way you can reap the benefits of routine and structure, but if you color outside the lines a little, what’s the worst that could happen? 

Center Yourself

Setting aside some time to color allows opportunities  to separate yourself from screens and devices, as well as any sort of outside distractions, and just focus on being in the moment for a while. Try to focus on the kinesthetic aspect of it – how the paper feels, what emotions the colors are invoking, the smell of the wax from the crayon.

Seeing In Color Again

Take some time to stop thinking. Your thoughts aren’t going anywhere. Enjoy some of these illustrations we’ve put together, and remember, there are no rules. Color outside the lines if you want to! 

1. Jayde A. M Flett, Celia Lie, Benjamin C Riordan, Laura M Thompson, Tamlin S Conner & Harlene Hayne (2017) Sharpen Your Pencils: Preliminary Evidence that Adult Coloring Reduces Depressive Symptoms and Anxiety, Creativity Research Journal, 29:4, 409-416, DOI: 10.1080/10400419.2017.1376505

2. Wikimedia Foundation. Mandala. Wikipedia. 

3. Wilson, M. (2018, August 2). The Ancient Origins Of Your Obsession With Coloring Books. Fast Company. 

4. Health, B. (2016, August 2). Health Benefits of Coloring for Adults. Beaumont Health. 

About Author /

Writer, wanna-be illustrator, avid reader. Wrapping up a bachelor’s degree in English at the University of Tennessee - Knoxville, Kaeli hopes to continue bringing awareness to mental health issues.

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