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America’s obsession with adult coloring is a cry for help

28 April 2016

From Quartz:

In January, Samantha Wuu quit her job in Boston to move home to New Jersey and support her mother through two family illnesses. To take her mind off her worries, she also took up coloring. She very quickly found it hard to stop.

“I was really, really stressed when this was going on,” says the 27-year-old, a teacher and childhood friend. Coloring became a useful distraction, and then a preoccupation: “I would be doing other things, and I’d be like, ‘I can’t wait until I get to do that again.” For a month, she colored every day, at times twice a day.

In a very short time, coloring has proven surprisingly addictive for America’s stressed, anxious, and overworked. Therapeutic without being therapy, meditative without being meditation, creative without being creation, artsy without being art, the supposedly soothing activity has also become a big business—in 2015 alone, US sales of coloring books shot up from 1 to 12 million units.

. . . .

It’s hard to overstate the trend: Coloring books are one of the big reasons print had such a strong showing last year in the US. Bookstores and craft stores alike are bursting at the seams with coloring books geared toward the 20 and up, and there are YouTube channels that let people watch other people color and critique coloring books. Coloring is so big, it’s spun off its own bizarre subcultures, like coloring book parties, coloring books that are just swear words, and adult coloring apps. Even colored pencil production is feeling the effects of the craze.

. . . .

A sizable number of the best-selling titles have one promise: “relax,” “stress relief,” and “good vibes.” Anecdotally at least, coloring seems to make people feel calmer. But unlike with drugs or exercise, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly how.

“People with a lot of anxiety respond really well to coloring books,” says New York-based art therapist Nadia Jenefsky. “There are some choices involved—in terms of choosing what colors you’re going to use and how you’re blending your colors—but there’s also a lot of structure.”

. . . .

In a statement, the American Art Therapy Association draws a fine line:

“The American Art Therapy Association supports the use of coloring books for pleasure and self-care, however these uses should not be confused with the delivery of professional art therapy services, during which a client engages with a credentialed art therapist.”

Gloria Webb, a stay-at-home mother in New York City, says she colors because it helps her sleep. She and seven other women, mostly seniors, meet every week in an “adult coloring book club” in Manhattan’s Kips Bay public library.

. . . .

Sheerly Avni, a TV writer based in Mexico City, says she’s the perfect audience for a trend like adult coloring: “I haven’t relaxed since 1973,” she jokes. “I was born to be the market demographic for anything new that makes people calm down with them not actually having to work for it.”

. . . .

We color to feel like children again, and to flex creative muscles, but as Jenefsky says, the truth is that children are actually so creative that coloring books slow them down. “For children a lot of times coloring books can inhibit their creativity,” she says. Their natural creativity, she says, lends itself better to creating art from scratch.

Burned out adults, on the other hand, can be overwhelmed by a blank page. For them, selecting colors to fill in the lines may be all the creativity they can muster. And that makes sense.

It’s precisely coloring’s noncommittal not-quite-therapy, not-quite-art qualities that make it compelling. The activity takes less energy than jogging or yoga, is easier than picking up knitting, and is more productive than watching House of Cards (or can be done alongside it). Easier than yoga or meditation, it offers low-stake quick-hit escapism wrapped in the faddish trappings of self-medication.

Link to the rest at Quartz

Books in General

38 Comments to “America’s obsession with adult coloring is a cry for help”

  1. I think this is spot on. I used to do jigsaw puzzles and build monstrous card houses in college for the same reason: on days I was wired from stress these were things to do that required a bit of motor function, had definite end points, and had pretty results, but didn’t require much close attention.

    The author’s also correct that proper therapy is more effective in the long term…but if you aren’t ready for therapy or can’t access it, anything that keeps you from flipping the f*ck out, doesn’t hurt anyone, doesn’t become a full-blown addiction, and might just help you sleep is a good thing.

    • I love jigsaw puzzles. The only reason I stopped is because of a particular cat who is fond of knocking the pieces off the table.

      • I found a jigsaw puzzle app for my iPad. A free puzzle every day. I’m addicted!

        The cats still sometimes decide to sit on my lap when I’m trying to do a puzzle, but no pieces are disturbed. 🙂

    • I’ve recently started putting jigsaw puzzles together. When I was little, we had a collection and my mom and I would do it, but I left them behind when I moved out because I wasn’t interested. One day, I saw a puzzle and missed the activity so I bought some. It’s been a nice stress relieving activity and helps empty my mind. (Although, I do know how to knit too and boy is that stress relieving. There’s a reason knitters joke “I knit so I don’t kill people.”)

  2. “Most of us, if we’re not encouraged to continue with art-making, we usually stop making art when we finish middle or high school. It’s an activity you’re not encouraged to do unless you’re demonstrating some kind of talent for it,” she says.

    Probably one of the most heart breaking things I’ve read in a long time. As adults, we need to let go of the shame attached with continuing childhood things into adulthood unless we have a purpose or talent or gift for doing it. If you like to color, do it. If you like to watch cartoons, do it. If you can do a cartwheel at 80, do it. Let go of the notion that once you “grow up” you have to stop having fun. And maybe if we allowed adults to maintain the wonder and joy of being a kid we wouldn’t be so stressed out because we’d choose de-stressing activities that made us feel good all along.

    Sorry for that, but this just burns my biscuits.

    • And in alot of cases, we’re encouraged to ‘grow up and be productive’, even if we have talent. My father is an artist, I filled sketchbook on sketchbook during highschool, and I majored in arts and animation. And I still pick up a pencil and paper and feel like I should be doing something that results in an immediate outcome that the rest of the world will approve. It’s all very nice to have people say ‘I wish I could do that’ or “That’s so neat/pretty’. Another when they ask what you do for a living.

    • This seems like a good time to pull out this oldie but goodie:

      “Critics who treat ‘adult’ as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. And in childhood and adolescence they are, in moderation, healthy symptoms. Young things ought to want to grow.

      But to carry on into middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being adult is a mark of really arrested development. When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”

      –C.S. Lewis

    • On the first day of fifth grade I was anxious, because I thought the fifth grade meant I couldn’t watch cartoons anymore or go trick-or-treating. I was relieved when the teacher had us do “getting to know you” essays and some other kid proudly said he watched Chip and Dale’s Rescue Rangers. That was my favorite and I wasn’t giving it up. I just didn’t want to have to keep it a secret.

      I laugh at myself now, because I realize that my father often watched Hanna-Barbera cartoons alongside us. My mother would sit with us and watch JEM and She-Ra and Thundarr the Barbarian.

      And nowadays I’ve binge-watched Bodacious Space Pirates three times already and I don’t care who knows it.

      So color away, y’all. Being an “adult” means you know there’s a time time to be serious and responsible … and a time to chill out and be frivolous.

    • Now I feel even better about getting my daughter in law what my son said she’d like. I bought her a bunch of blank canvases, paints, some brushes and a small easel. She is not a trained artist but likes to paint. I’m sure she ‘needed’ other things because they are young and have a small child, but I figured she’d never spend the money on herself for that kind of thing. Since then, she’s created several very nice paintings.

  3. Puzzles for me, helps me think through other things — or plot out the next bit of my story!

  4. The coloring book for adults might be a trend, but I think it’s a good one. It does no one any harm, it creates a market for people to express themselves, to find relaxation in something that’s colorful and fun. And I cannot tell you how jazzed I got when I went to buy a box of colored pencils. I got the PrismaColor 48 pack, and Enchanted Forest (from Amazon, natch) and when they came in the mail, I opened them and just put them on my desk to look at. My anticipation and pleasure in that moment was sublime. I felt like a kid, and that the world was full of possibilities.

    Here’s another one: Buy a box of Crayola crayons. You’re an adult and bring home a paycheck, so guess what? You get to buy the big box of 64 crayons, and since you don’t have to argue with your Mom in the crayon aisle at Target about whether or not you actually NEED them, for only $8.00 you get to bring the whole box home with you. And when you’re feeling a bit blue, or not very creative try this. Grab the box, close your eyes, open the box, and smell the crayons. Whenever I do this, I feel a surge of pleasure and happiness, and the creativity is never far behind.

    Being a grown up is very overrated.

  5. Finding an effective way to de-stress is not a cry for help; it’s just a different way to meditate and calm one’s nerves.

    With one job I used to have to lock myself in my bedroom for half an hour so I could de-stress in the silence.

    Coloring books would not have worked (people wouldn’t leave me alone) but that doesn’t mean they won’t work for others.

  6. I think you should find whatever works for you. If you find pleasure in it and it relieves the stress, then that is a good thing.
    I’m working on my first coloring book right now. I just have to find a distributor.

  7. Coloring instead of drowning in a bottle of liquor? Sounds healthy to me.

    It amazes me about the coloring book craze. Don’t people sit and color with their kids?

    I’ve been coloring with my kids for 8 years. I guess I’m a trend setter 🙂

    What will the next article be? Family game night builds stronger family relationships?

    • Actually, the cry for help is from facebonk, twitter and the like …

      You’re supposed to be wasting your time looking at our ads and making us money! Not looking away from the screen and coloring! Waaaaa …..

    • Back in my early twenties I fell in love and then went through the most painful breakup of my life — firsts are always the worst — and used coloring to help me soothe the pain. For just a few minutes, I escaped from my heartache by coloring. To this day, I keep a child’s coloring book and a box of crayons on hand. And I don’t have kids. I also refuse to let go of anything that brings me peace and contentment.

    • I don’t. No kids 🙂 So I fulfill both the adult and child requirements.

      My grandma said “Those coloring books. It’s just…childish.”

      Thankfully my husband waited till we got home to twit me on it. 😉

    • Keep in mind that not everyone has kids. Or the kids are too old to be interested in coloring.

  8. Computer games. WRPGs normally but simulation games ala SIM CITY, CIVILIZATION, and A KINGDOM FOR KELFINGS can be very relaxing.

    I finally figured out the key to FALLOUT 4 (water empires!) and I have a nice combat-free run going on, building arcologies and populating them with robots and cats.

    Of course, reading, writing, and TV also figure into the mix. Anything to get away from the crappy-and-getting-crappier world out there…

  9. I’d like to know what study says that coloring books stifle a child’s creativity. Because that’s just bullcrap. IMO.

  10. “The American Art Therapy Association supports the use of coloring books for pleasure and self-care, however these uses should not be confused with the delivery of professional art therapy services, during which a client engages with a credentialed art therapist.”

    Do whatever you want as long as we keep getting our fees.

  11. Yes Papa we know you are stressed, but instead of running with the bulls and traveling far distances to fight in wars and drink yourself down to hell and back, here’s a coloring book; we’d like to keep you around for a long long time.

  12. Art therapists have helped dramatically for many veterans with the terrors of PTSD. Giving them a coloring book, or some art supplies, is not enough. Many many expressive therapists in service also for refugees across europe. It’s a discipline sorely needed, and in some ways, blessed, for it often esp in refugees there is a language barrier [many languages and dialects], but also with certain soldiers who really dont care to talk, to opine, to tell their stories. Often men/women of few words. And expressive therapies helps.

    If you’ve ever a chance to see the arts exhibits by veterans, by all means go… Their post-trauma works from singing groups, to wheel chair modern dance, to huge hand made lace cloths, to gymnast teams of persons who have had amputations, to artworks in every brilliant color and medium and more more, are spectacular.

  13. Most of us suffer from horrifyingly large amounts of decision fatigue.

    Between raising kids, running a household, and working a job (whether you’re working for someone else or self-employed), by the end of the day our brains are tired.

    All the snooty “coloring isn’t real, go get a blank page and draw it yourself” stuff doesn’t take into account all that decision fatigue. Coloring pre-drawn outlines in is truly, truly soothing.

    I will say my mental health, so to speak, has improved a lot in the years since I really learned about decision fatigue, because I experimented with “when to stop”, gave myself permission to “procrastinate” something when I’d already been going hard for 14 hours and was beginning to struggle to choose or to make mistakes, etc. Now I window my day instead of “going til I drop” and build in a bit of time here and there to fill with non-decisionmaking activities. Like coloring for a few minutes. It’s as good as taking a short nap, for giving your brain a “rest”.

  14. Well, it may be America’s obsession, but it sure ain’t mine. I see these ACB’s at the entrance vestibule to the local B&N. And I find it utterly puzzling. Why? I can’t imagine myself ever spending my infinitely precous time on Planet Earth coloring. Hey, I did that already, as a pre-schooler and first grader.

    Got a Hell of a lot of better things to do with my time. Like writing, for instance.

  15. I think it’s sad that someone has the need to shame others for finding a relaxing activity they enjoy. No harm is done to anyone by an adult coloring, dancing, writing, playing video games, doing puzzles (crossword or jigsaw) or any of the other myriad ways they enjoy spending their spare time.

    While some may need professional guidance in therapy, I’d venture the majority of people just need some downtime. It’s fun. It’s relaxing. You get to do something pretty, instead of worrying about outbidding someone on the stock market, or devising new ways to hurt someone because their country has something you want.

    But as Box says, critties gonna nay.

  16. Any Indies here who have produced their own adult coloring book? If so, how have the sales been?

    I’m also an artist and I’ve been considering putting one together for a few years now. Not sure if it’s worth my time or if I should stay focused on the fiction.

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