Over the past three years, I’ve amassed an array of tools to help me maintain my mental health. I have books, audiobooks, meditations, photographs, crisis plans, wellness toolkits and more. My tools are both passive – watching tv or listening to music, and active – meditating and painting.
Of late, though, the activity I’ve most engaged in is colouring. As activities go, it’s cheap, it’s easy and it’s a great help to my mental health.
While I coloured as a child – back then I was an “inside the lines” colourer – it wasn’t until it was used as a tool in a support group that I began to colour as an adult. The facilitator of the group had brought in some colouring pages and some markers and handed them out to us to colour. Each of the five pages we were given had an inspirational phrase and an accompanying image. We were asked to choose the phrase that spoke to us at that time and colour in that sheet.
I admit, each of us in the group was doubtful. We couldn’t see how colouring fit in with mental health support. Nonetheless, we did as we were instructed. What followed was a period of profound silence as we each worked on the page that had spoken to us. After a short time, or at least a time that we thought was short – it had been fifteen minutes – the facilitator ended the exercise. We then spoke about the experience.
Common themes emerged. Each of us mentioned how the exercise had taken us back to our childhood: its innocence, its joy, its timelessness. We remembered how as children we devoted as much time and energy as we desired to each activity. Time had no real meaning. We spoke of how involved we were in those childhood activities and compared it to how involved we were with the colouring exercise. None of us realized that fifteen minutes had passed because all of us were completely immersed in what we were doing finding that our troubles had been set aside. Best of all, each of us felt calmer. We found that the exercise, despite our doubts, had proved itself to be very soothing.
On my own part, I found that my breathing had relaxed, that tensions in my neck and shoulders had eased and that my thoughts had quietened.
Yet, each of us also confessed that we had feelings of guilt. Despite all the benefits the exercise revealed, there was also the thought that this was a child’s activity, not something for adults to engage in. There was some self- consciousness, some awkwardness, at having “wasted” valuable group time on something frivolous. It wasn’t until the benefits had been explored that we came to appreciate that the activity wasn’t frivolous at all. There was a palpable sense of relief as this realization dawned on us.
What stayed with me wasn’t the guilt or the self-consciousness. It was the calm, the soothing, the peace I felt when I applied colour to the page. Then, when adult colouring books became available, I was given license to colour.
This surge in adult colouring came at a good time. I was also beginning to paint but I had no real appreciation of how colours worked together. Paints and canvasses are expensive and learning about colour with them was proving to be an expensive exercise. Colouring, on the other hand, provided a relatively inexpensive way to learn. Through colouring, I could learn about shading, blending, colour combinations and much more at substantially lower cost. I could then transpose the lessons I learned to my painting.
In addition to helping me with my painting, colouring is a tool that helps maintain my good mental health. By engaging in it, I gain all the benefits that I discovered in the support group exercise.
When I colour, I am fully immersed in that moment of time. My thoughts are stilled, my breathing slows. When I colour, I pay attention exclusively to the image before me, preparing to use my imagination to add colour to match the skill of the original artist. When I colour, I allow the colours to move me, to influence me. When I colour, I am distracted from the cycle of unhelpful thinking styles.
Which is a massive benefit to me at this particular time. I recently left the support group – it’s time to challenge my comfort zone – and I have turned to colouring to help me to adjust to this new circumstance. While I haven’t found myself immersed in much unhelpful thinking, I do miss the support the group gave and find the colouring to be a comforting tool. Like my daily meditations, I have no doubt that my colouring helps me maintain a balance that betters my mental health.
If you haven’t yet reintroduced yourself to colouring, please do so. Your mental health will thank you.
About John Dickson
A lifelong battle with Major Depressive Disorder resulted in a suicide attempt. That attempt taught me the danger of being silent about my personal struggles with mental health. I've had to learn to be more open about my struggle. I now choose to reach out with the hope that someone will be inspired and end his/her own silence. I'm a dad, a blogger and a new convert to the power of social media.