Does coloring reduce stress? Or is it just exaggerated? Some of you may hear that coloring book can relax us. Because some experts including doctors, clinical psychologists, and art therapist tell us that there are some health benefits of coloring such as relaxation, training our brain to focus and exercising our fine motor skills.
But, does it really reduce your stress? There are some unknown facts you should know.
Coloring mandala could help with stress and its related problem
There are people investigating what health benefits coloring mandala can bring to us. For some of you who may not know what it is, a mandala is a spiritual and ritual symbol in Indian religions, which represents the universe.
Some people claim that mandala can reduce stress. For example, as stated by Judith Cornell who is an author of “Mandala: Luminous symbols for healing”, the creation of mandalas psychologically supported a woman diagnosed with thyroid cancer and thus she felt distressed (1, 2).
Some research studies have also shown similar results. As reported by Lycoming College in Psi Chi Journal of Psychological Research, young participants who colored mandalas reported less stress and less anxious compared to those who did not color them after experiencing the same stressful event (3).
Apart from reducing stress, some other research studies have shown that coloring mandala could help with anxiety. For example, according to a research article published in Journal of the American Art Therapy Association by Nazareth College of Rochester, coloring mandala reduced participants’ anxiety after experiencing a stressful event.(2).
Why coloring could reduce stress
According to the American Art Therapy Association (AATA), the reason why coloring can reduce stress is it “provide(s) a controlled, contained use of art for self-soothing purposes, and their success-oriented nature is conducive to (the) fulfillment of the need for instant gratification” (4).
As stated by AATA, you will focus on doing coloring books when you are coloring, which redirects you from being occupied in unhealthy internal dialogue to the coloring (4).
Not all types of coloring are effective
Although coloring seems to be a stress reliever, you need to know that not all types of coloring are effective stress relievers. In other words, some types of coloring may reduce stress less effectively than others.
From what researchers and other health professionals find, mandala coloring seems to be an effective stress reliever.
According to the same research study by Nazareth College of Rochester, coloring mandala did not only reduce participants’ anxiety but also reduced anxiety more effectively than coloring freely on a blank paper (2).
So, what is the view of AATA regarding types of coloring as well? AATA think coloring mandala can also further reduce your stress (4).
However, scientists are still not very sure about which types of coloring can effectively reduce your stress. Because there are too few research studies related to this topic. In other words, there may be some other coloring methods better than mandala coloring but we don’t know about that.
For reducing the stress-related problem like anxiety, scientists also don’t know if mandala coloring is the best choice and we need more scientific evidence about this. For example, the study by Nazareth College of Rochester also mentions that creating mandalas may or may not be better than coloring mandalas and further research is needed (2).
Coloring =/= Art Therapy
Although coloring is one of the examples of art and it could reduce stress, coloring is not art therapy. You should not think coloring is as same as art therapy. You should not consider yourself as art therapist if you don’t have a proper qualification as well.
According to the statement by AATA, art therapy “as an integrative mental health profession involves significant professional training and experience” (4). Before becoming an art therapist, a person has to undergo two to three years training including art, psychology and psychotherapy.
So, the person is able to help his or her client to reach a fuller potential with the help of art materials and the process of image-making. Therefore, if you do coloring without any help from an art therapist, you should not mistake this coloring as art therapy.
You may be surprised that not only laymen have this confusion but also news media as well. When I was looking for any scientific evidence proving that coloring is a stress reliever, I found that some news media also confused coloring as art therapy.
For example, some of the journalists reported that coloring could reduce stress based on two research studies which were “Relieving symptoms in cancer: innovative use of art therapy” (5) and “A randomized, controlled trial of mindfulness‐based art therapy (MBAT) for women with cancer” (6).
To be honest, it is difficult for me to write this post. Because there are not much scientific evidence including research studies proving that coloring is an effective stress reliever. Most of the studies I could find are about how art therapy, instead of coloring, helps with stress.
Also, most of the coloring-related studies are about mandala coloring while there are different types of coloring claiming that they can also relieve stress. So, it is not clear whether they are all effective stress relievers as well.
Although there is not much evidence showing that coloring can help with stress, I think we can still consider it as one of our tools to fight our stress. Because not having enough scientific evidence doesn’t mean that this stress reliever is not effective.
The only thing that matters is how do you feel after using this reliever. If you try this and then feel relaxed, then this reliever is for you. If not, it is not an effective reliever to you. But, it is still no harm to try it. Because we all have different preferences on stress relievers and coloring is not harmful to us. For example, some of you may find coloring can reduce stress while some may think playing digital games can relieve stress.
I hope you enjoyed this post and if you have any questions about coloring or want to leave your own personal opinion, leave a comment below.
1 Cornell J. Mandala: Luminous symbols for healing. Quest Books; 2006 Sep 1.
2 van der Vennet R, Serice S. Can coloring mandalas reduce anxiety? A replication study. Art therapy. 2012 Jun 1;29(2):87-92.
3 Muthard C, Gilbertson R. Stress Management in Young Adults: Implications of Mandala Coloring on Self-Reported Negative Affect and Psychophysiological Response. Psi Chi Journal of Psychological Research. 2016 Mar 1;21(1).
4 Richard Carolan, Donna Betts. The Adult Coloring Book Phenomenon. American Art Therapy Association. 2015
5 Nainis N, Paice JA, Ratner J, Wirth JH, Lai J, Shott S. Relieving symptoms in cancer: innovative use of art therapy. Journal of pain and symptom management. 2006 Feb 28;31(2):162-9.
6 Monti DA, Peterson C, Kunkel EJ, Hauck WW, Pequignot E, Rhodes L, Brainard GC. A randomized, controlled trial of mindfulness‐based art therapy (MBAT) for women with cancer. Psycho‐Oncology. 2006 May 1;15(5):363-73.