How Adult Coloring Books Can Help Lessen Stress

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When I gave adult coloring books to my older brother for Christmas, I was nervous that he, would reject them. Yet even though he is usually one for traditional gifts straight off his wish list, my brother warmly embraced the adult coloring trend sweeping the globe. I had recently begun coloring every night in a “calm” coloring book that promised “stress releasing patterns.” With the holiday season and the push of the end of my graduate school semester, the repetitive motions and sense of creativity and accomplishment helped me relax. After reading some more on the trend I found that I wasn’t alone; research shows that adult coloring can have a positive effect on a stressed or anxious person’s state of mind.

What Are Adult Coloring Books?

Adult coloring books share similar qualities with the coloring books you remember from childhood. Papers show designs in black and white encourage you to color within the lines but with an ability to choose how they turn out. Adult coloring books are often themed, such as Enchanted Forest and Secret Garden by British illustrator Johanna Basford. Basford’s adult coloring books might be described as experiences because they have creatures and objects to find within drawings that take the reader on a themed quest or “inky adventure” as they are frequently subtitled. Basford’s adult coloring books have sold millions of copies and made appearances on the New York Times bestseller list. There are also coloring books based off of popular culture, such as spin-offs from Game of Thrones, Outlander, and Harry Potter. The readers can use gel pens, ink pens, coloring pencils, crayons, watercolors…anything to fill in the exquisitely detailed designs.

Why Do People Enjoy Adult Coloring Books?

Many people seem to enjoy the rhythm of coloring in the same way knitters and crocheters are able to detach from the motions of the craft and enjoy the experience. These colorists (the people doing the coloring) also like having the freedom to color in a pattern to their choosing, meaning the colorist gets to have some level of choice in his or her final design. You can put on some relaxing music or the radio and you can even “double book” yourself and listen to audiobooks at the same time. People also enjoy coloring socially, and libraries now have programming for adult coloring circles.

How Can They Help Alleviate Stress and Anxiety?

Adult coloring books could be of special interest to people suffering from psychological stress or anxiety. A 2005 study concluded that coloring sheets of paper with mandala designs—richly detailed circular patterns which in Buddhist and Hindu traditions are said to represent the universe—helped alleviate students’ stress and anxiety. The authors of the study argued that coloring combined elements of art therapy and meditation. They observed that coloring a mandala pattern for 20 minutes was more effective at reducing anxiety than coloring free-form on a blank sheet of paper. Coloring a plaid design helped alleviate anxiety as well. The researchers believed that the mandalas and plaid design had a guiding structure—intricate but not too complex—that provided some direction and were still simple enough to not warrant too much comprehension. The mind was free to roam.

Experts are quick to differentiate coloring book stress reduction from art therapy, however, because art therapy can be more focused on healing from trauma and is done under supervision of a licensed art therapist. Indeed the American Art Therapy Association wrote that it “…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.” Although coloring is not the same as true art therapy, it still is shown to have a beneficial effect as many colorists can testify.  

How does one get started with adult coloring books?

Adult coloring books are generally quite affordable, with many priced below $10 on Amazon and other online retailers. Yet you can even print out your own designs at home for free. The website, Coloring Pages for Adults, offers free patterns, such as “Zen and Anti-Stress” designs, and many more themes to choose. A search on Pinterest for “adult coloring book pages free” brings up a seemingly endless scroll of pins and boards where people can print out free designs. For art supplies, you can use just about any kind of colored marker, gel pen, coloring pencil, or crayons you have around the house or can purchase at an art supply store or even the dollar store.

Turn on some relaxing music like a nature sounds (you can find free playlists on YouTube by searching for “Nature sounds mix” or “Nature sounds playlist”), classical music, or jazz and let your mind relax. You can also invite other people to join you or look for or start a coloring circle at your local library.

Sustained repetitive motions in an intricate design you can fully customize with colors of your choosing can potentially lead to a meditative state and stress-reducing possibilities. Next time you’re feeling anxiety or overtaxed, try an adult coloring book to relax.


  1. Lea on January 25, 2016 at 8:20 pm

    I loved coloring as a kid and looking back I used it to relax when stressed out. If things were overwhelming at the holidays I’d be in the corner coloring. This holiday I brought out the new coloring books from the publishing company I work for and next thing I knew some of my husbands relatives jumped in and joined me in coloring. We even had fun joking that the college kids should take mom’s colored pages and put them on their dorm fridges!

  2. Judy H. on January 27, 2016 at 8:41 pm

    I received an adult coloring book for Christmas. A friend thought it would help with my anxiety. Well, the coloring book was the last thing I needed. I experienced increased anxiety if I went out of the lines and even with my ADD medication, I couldn’t handle more than 5 minutes of it at a time. My daughter has one. She said in the evenings, after her children are in bed, it is the most relaxing thing in the world for her. Good news for all of you who find them therapeutic…kepp on coloring!