Thanks to its basic, repetitive motions, coloring engages parts of the cerebral cortex while relaxing the amygdala, the brain’s fear center. A group of college students participated in one of the few studies of the mental-health impacts of coloring. The students were instructed to write about something frightening (to spike anxiety levels). Then they were assigned to one of three activities: Color a blank page, color a plaid design, or color an intricate circular pattern called a mandala. Those who colored the plaid design or the mandala were less anxious than those who had a blank page. For maximum meditative benefits, completely immerse yourself—so don’t watch Game of Thrones or text at the same time. 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 want to give an adult coloring book a try, click here to check out some beautiful nature-inspired patterns.
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 studies, researchers found that people 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.
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. Coloring can also provide a way to experiment without worrying about failure or consequences. Here are other things all highly creative people do.
According to a study from San Francisco State University, workers who regularly engaged in a creative hobby outside of their jobs were rated by their colleagues as more innovative, helpful, and team-spirited than workers without a creative pursuit. Make it a win-win: Invite your coworkers to color with you one day at lunch.
It can also promote optimism and inspiration for the future, and can even make cold rooms warmer. No, coloring is not some kind of black magic, but it can invoke that most magical of everyday feelings: nostalgia. Researchers have found that nostalgia can have all of the previously mentioned effects. Note: This will work only if you colored as a child, not if you try it for the first time now. It also helps if you can let the process of coloring—maybe it’s the smell of the crayons or the markers, or the scribbling motion that your hand makes—trigger a full-on, pleasurable sense memory from the past.
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.
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