A handle adults sit quietly in a Centennial Hills Library meeting room, happily immersed in an activity that combines pleasant childhood memories with current adult benefits.
They color in, use multicolored crayons on black-and-white pages with more intricate designs than anything they saw in elementary school, and that’s why they’re so deeply involved in what some might consider a literal breeze. -the concentration they bring to their task.
Call it a hobby or nostalgia or even a form of meditation, but many adults embrace coloring as a way to reduce stress, manage anxiety, and promote relaxation in times of turmoil.
“As a therapist, I have coloring books in the office,” said Dr. Donna Wilburn, a licensed marriage and family therapist.
In fact, Wilburn added, “I often use them myself.”
The deliberate, focused, yet low-stress coloring process can help distract us from ourselves and whatever stresses us out, satisfy our creative urges, and reconnect us with pleasurable activity from our past.
The coloring calms the nervous system, Wilburn said. It can make the mind more problem-solving, help us replace negative thoughts with positive ones, reduce stress and anxiety, and promote an overall feeling of increased relaxation.
Given the mental strains of recent years, she added, adult coloring might just be “popular now because people need it.”
“You can let go”
Coloring books aimed at adult audiences have actually been available for at least a decade, but Wilburn has noticed more in the last five years or so. And while the potential mental health benefits of adult coloring haven’t been studied as much as, say, meditation, the benefits of art therapy have long been recognized, she said.
Dr. Michelle Paul, executive director of UNLV PRACTICE, the university’s community mental health training clinic, said the usefulness of coloring for adults is associated with the notion of mindfulness, the state of “being present in the moment and to do so without judging.
Mindfulness involves “staying focused on the present moment,” Paul said, instead of “letting the mind wander over our mistakes.”
Coloring can help promote mindfulness because it involves “the repetition of calming motion,” Wilburn said. “When you color, there’s a lot of repetition and it’s monotonous. It doesn’t require a lot of active thought process, so you can let go.
The result can be something akin to a calm meditative state. “It’s not just, ‘Oh look, this reminds me of being in kindergarten,'” said Wilburn, who sometimes asks clients with anxiety to set aside 15 minutes each morning for coloring.
Several branches of the Las Vegas-Clark County Library District offer regular adult coloring sessions. Gatherings at Centennial Hills Library feature sessions that, in addition to coloring, include journaling and extreme connection activities.
“I think coloring puts you in a more meditative state,” says multi-service assistant Sharie Heier, who leads the sessions. “I think everyone is stressed out right now. It gives them a place to relax.
A soft and welcoming atmosphere is created by soft music in the background. Supplies—including crayon sets and coloring and binding pages—are provided free of charge.
‘Easing Your Mind’
Heier typically hosts around half a dozen attendees at each session, some of whom have become regulars. “Almost every time there’s at least one new person checking in,” she said.
Heier recalls seeing books that “actually said ‘adult coloring books'” in art supply stores several years ago. Now, coloring books designed specifically for adults are available at supermarket checkouts and more traditional retailers.
Coloring is the most popular activity at Centennial Hills Library gatherings, Heier said. She thinks the appeal of the sessions is to “color together and just not stress out”.
Malinda Henry attended her first session at the library a few weeks ago, “but I’ve been to others in the past.”
She’s been coloring on and off for about two years, and her coloring preferences lean toward mandalas, intricate geometric patterns that are a staple in adult coloring books.
“It’s a way to ease your mind,” said Henry, a retired teacher.
After retiring, “one of the things I noticed was that I wasn’t doing art anymore,” she says. “I missed it.
“Coloring is very comforting. And if you have grandkids, it’s fun to color with them. It eases your mind because you are focusing on one moment.
Jackie Heier has been attending Centennial Hills Library coloring sessions for about a year. It’s Sharie Heier’s mother and a kindergarten teacher who likes it here: “I can use colors that I don’t normally use. I guess you could say (it) gives you a bit more freedom.
She finds that coloring is a good tool to focus her mind. “It’s even something I can do while listening to something else that I have to keep my mind on.
“It works for me. It just gives my mind a sort of break from what my mind is already busy with. And that takes me away from life.
Sharie Heier often sees the benefits of coloring reflected in the behavior of participants.
Sometimes when a session ends and artists mentally disengage from their work, “it’s like they’re in a bit of a trance.”
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