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Adult coloring books are teaching me mindfulness in a busy world

Randi Mazzella is a mother of three and freelance writer.  She has written extensively about parenting, family life and teen issues. 

How my adult coloring books make me feel less stressed

This past Christmas, one of the gifts I received from my sister-in-law was a coloring booking and colored pencils. At 40-plus years old, I thought maybe she had mis-marked a gift meant for one of my children or younger nieces. In fact the gift was for me.

This past Christmas, one of the gifts I received from my sister-in-law was a coloring booking and colored pencils. At 40-plus years old, I thought maybe she had mis-marked a gift meant for one of my children or younger nieces. In fact the gift was for me.

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Adult coloring books have become quite trendy in the past few months. The Crayola website says coloring helps adults feel creative and ease their mind. The site offers a selection of coloring books geared specifically to adult consumers.

An article posted on CNN in January took the benefits of coloring even further, with experts saying the activity has the potential to reduce anxiety, increase focus and mindfulness.

The idea of coloring at my age sounded fun, but I was skeptical of the emotional and mental benefits I could derive. As a kid, I loved a fresh box of crayons, especially the Crayola 64 pack that had the built-in sharpener on the outside of the box. My drawings were pretty good when I was little, but as I got older, my artistic skills seemed to decline. A trip to a pottery place in town as an adult confirmed I had lost any talent I had as a child. While my peers painted mugs and vases worthy of a shelf in MOMA, my own painted plate was pretty sad looking.

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The coloring book my sister-in-law gave me was titled The CALM Coloring Book: Beautiful Images to Soothe Your Cares Away — quite a big promise for a paperback book filled with pages of black-lined pictures. Was a box of colored pencils really going to help me find some inner Zen?

I wasn’t convinced but decided to give it a try. As I sat down at my kitchen table, I was definitely less intimidated than I was at the paint-your-own pottery store.

The pictures were already there — all I had to do is color within the lines, but that was actually a littler trickier than it sounds. I needed to put on my reading glasses because some of the coloring areas were quite small. At first I wasn’t sure what colors to use (so many choices in that colored pencil box!), then I realized it didn’t matter. No one was going to grade or even see any of my finished work.

I started out coloring solo, and soon my 12-year-old son sat down to join me. He hadn't colored in a long time, as it was an activity that faded as his homework load and sports commitments increased. But when I got my coloring book, he and his teenage sister both asked if I would buy them coloring books, too.

The act of coloring together kept us both focused in the present without the usual daily distractions of the computer or cell phone. The mindfulness was immediate. We talked about what colors to use but also about things going on at school and life in general. I'm not sure if I am a total believer in the coloring craze, but I have to admit it was a really relaxing way to spend some time bonding with my son.

Can you keep calm and color on? I suggest you grab some pencils and find out.

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