Coloring Books for Adults: 9 Science-Backed Reasons to Pick Up Your Crayons

Updated: Apr. 08, 2021

Coloring books are not just for kids, they can relax the mind and provide stress relief for adults, too. Here's how.

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Adult coloring books

Think coloring books are for children? Think again. Adult coloring books are a great way for grown-ups to express their inner artist and relieve stress. “Adult coloring books are great for a mindful activity, meaning they help you focus in the moment, mindfully,” says Cara Maksimow, a therapist in private practice in Chatham, New Jersey. They’re also among Amazon’s top 10 best-selling U.S. titles, as more people seek out affordable ways to relax and be creative at home. Here’s what newbies should know about this popular pastime. 

overhead shot of woman drawing in adult coloring book
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Color may reduce pain and anxiety

A 2018 study, published in the journal The Arts in Psychotherapy, reviewed the experiences of 200 people hospitalized for a medical issue or surgery. The researchers found that participating in art therapy for an average of 50 minutes significantly improved their moods, and lowered levels of pain and anxiety. If you have low-level pain or anxiety, an hour of coloring just might make you feel better and calmer too. But here’s one caution: While coloring books are a beneficial self-help activity, its use is not the same as engaging with a credentialed art therapist during professional art therapy services, notes the American Art Therapy Association. Want to give it a try? Check out 100 Flowers Adult Coloring Book


Coloring calms down the busiest of minds

Thanks to its basic, repetitive motions, coloring engages parts of the cerebral cortex while relaxing the amygdala, the brain’s fear center, and the choice of color has a lot to do with it. Cool colors like blue and green can evoke calm, while hot colors like red and orange can be energizing, according to a 2015 study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology. It’s fun to concentrate on the many sensations: What does the crayon feel like between your fingers? How does it smell? How would you describe the exact shade you’ve chosen? If you like animals, try out the Adult Coloring Book: Stress Relieving Animal Designs.


Coloring can get rid of the dark circles under your eyes

By swapping your cellphone, tablet, or laptop for a coloring book before bed, you’ll avoid exposing yourself to the sleep-sabotaging blue light emitted by electronic devices. In a 2016 study published in JAMA Pediatrics, researchers found that children who used an electronic device at night had greater difficulty falling asleep and got less REM sleep (necessary for rest and for memory consolidation) than those who didn’t. After they woke up, device users felt sleepier and their sleepiness lasted for a longer time than non-device users.


Coloring lets you nurture your inner artist

Still have painful memories of elementary-school art class? Undo that psychic damage. Using a coloring book—especially one with intricately crafted designs—is like having a wonderful artist enlist you as a partner by asking you to shade in her or his designs. The current high priestess of coloring, Johanna Basford, declares that the people filling in her books are every bit as creative as she is. Check out the free gallery on her website where you can see the mind-blowingly cool panels created by fans. And if you need coloring supplies, you might start with Crayola’s Colored Pencils for Adults.


Coloring may inspire you to invent the next Swiffer or Spanx

Grown-ups have relatively few opportunities for open-ended, unstructured play (Candy Crush doesn’t count). But it’s precisely those moments when our minds are engaged yet free to roam that unexpected associations and ideas pop up, unleashing inner creative genius. Incorporating play into daily routines helps cancer patients feel distracted in a good way, with less stress and anxiety, according to a 2018 study in the Clinical Journal of Nursing Oncology, which suggests that the benefits of coloring could work for the general population as well.


Coloring can make you a work superstar

According to a 2019 study published in Frontiers of Neural Circuits, having a creative mind and expressing yourself is one of the keys to achieve success and make progress in various aspects of your life, including professional, personal, and social. What better way to start than coloring, says Maksimow. “Adult coloring books, like any art, music, yoga, gardening, are a great option to reduce stress and express yourself.” Make it a win-win: Invite your coworkers to do it with you one day at lunch.


Coloring provides sweet relief to a brain taxed by too many choices

Go to perform a seemingly simple task like, say, buying Greek yogurt, and you might find yourself stressed out in a grocery store aisle with a dizzying array of questions: What brand? What fat percentage? What flavor? Whoa—head hurts. This is what psychologists call “decision fatigue,” according to a 2019 study published in Health Psychology. Coloring pares down your dilemmas to only two: What page? What color? Ahhhhh. Here are other little tricks to cut back on stress.


Coloring can add meaning to life and make you feel like a kid again

No, coloring is not some kind of black magic, but it can invoke that most magical of everyday feelings: Nostalgia. How to get started? Select a book whose theme—mandalas, animals, even inspirational quotes—means something to you, and then choose your favorite colors. You don’t have to follow the rules here. If you want the sun to be blue and the trees metallic orange, go for it! Try these other brain games to let your inner child run wild.


Coloring can help you age gracefully

Because coloring is a hands-on hobby, it helps you maintain your manual dexterity, something that diminishes as people age. And who says coloring is a solo endeavor? Many libraries and bookstores are hosting coloring events, and if you can’t find one near you, you could host your own. People with strong social bonds report greater happiness and health throughout their lives. Or try one of these 12 habits of people who look and act younger than their age.