The last year and a half has been a doozy. Collectively, we’ve faced unprecedented levels of uncertainty, grief, loss, and frustration. It was a year that called on us to dig deep from our well of inner resources. At the end of our poise and patience, we rolled up our tattered sweatshirt sleeves and set out desperately to find more resources.
We found them in creature comforts. But what do we do when that well of cold cereal for dinner and Netflix for dessert runs dry?
Fortunately, plenty of simple fallbacks can help break up the blur between days and the conveyor belt of news headlines and doom scrolling. Coloring is one of the most underrated balms for stressful times.
Yes, coloring—just like we did when we were children.
It’s easy. It’s convenient. Most people already have the supplies needed to begin. And best of all, it’s proven to help relieve stress and reduce activity in the amygdala, the region of the brain responsible for the fight or flight response.
One 2005 study from the Journal of the American Art Therapy Association found that coloring for twenty minutes reduced anxiety in college students. Another study presented in Psycho-Oncology found that mindfulness art therapy helped relieve symptoms of distress in women with cancer.
While coloring fits easily into existing self-care routines, it can also be an accessible launching pad for getting more connected to habits of mindfulness, positive affirmations, and meditative states.
For those dealing with serious mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, addiction, or bipolar disorder, remember that coloring is not an alternative to professional help. Always work closely with your mental health professional while exploring supportive remedies.
1. Morning Routine
Some days, just getting out of bed can feel like an undertaking. Try placing coloring postcards and a few of your favorite colored pencils on your bedside table, and color for ten minutes before getting out of bed or reaching for your phone. (Even better: leave your phone in a drawer out of sight.)
How many days in a row can you do it? See how you feel after a week of this simple swap. Healthy changes like these can also build self-esteem by beginning the day with a simple accomplishment that serves your well-being.
2. Cool Down
Coloring can be a healthy outlet for releasing emotional buildup after intense experiences such as a work meeting, an argument, or receiving upsetting news. This is especially important in high-stress situations when one feels they have to “be on” most of the time, such as being a parent or being a member of the clergy.
Emotions are stored until we process them. Pausing to color is kindness for your current and future self. Next time you’re feeling high-intensity emotions, try taking a moment to release your feelings onto the coloring page.
3. Social Anxiety
You get to a place early. There’s a lull in the conversation. Instead of reaching for your phone, pull out the coloring page you’re working on. Take a moment to arrive and feel curious about the social experience you are about to have.
Coloring with friends can be a welcome surprise too; pass some pencils around and watch the conversation flow. Giving the hands something to do can often enable you to listen more closely and be more present, rather than getting inside your head and lost in your own anxiety around an experience.
4. Warm-Up before Creative Work
Often, the hardest part of creating art, music, or writing is getting into the zone. This also applies to activities that require present attention, like research, building, baking, or organizing. Even ten minutes of coloring before diving into your work can invite focused attention on the task at hand. Plus, feeling better can lead to better performance and better outcomes.
5. Before Bed Routine
Quality of sleep is intricately related to quality of life. We all know that screens before bed can be detrimental to our sleep patterns. Yet it’s nice to have something to zone out to as the day comes to a close. Try turning down overhead lights, playing some background music or beats, and taking twenty minutes to color as you digest the day and prepare for the act of resting and sleep.
This is a good time to mix in affirmations as you color: I have done enough today. I am loved. I am capable of handling the challenges before me. I bring my best self when I am rested. Celebrate yourself; you made it through another day.
When the pressures, the monotony, or the sheer unpredictability of life weigh heavy, reach for an escape that will leave you feeling better, not worse.
You may be surprised at how much can change with a simple new habit of coloring for a few minutes each day. Responsibilities may begin to feel more manageable, and inner life may feel more steady when you take the time to put colors to paper and set down some of what you’ve been carrying.