Coloring Isn't Just for Kids

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Story at-a-glance -

  • Stress affects up to 83 percent of the workforce in the U.S. and contributes to several health problems, including cardiovascular disease, immune-mediated disease and fertility problems, and can trigger system-wide inflammation
  • Coloring can help your mind to focus and may reduce stress levels
  • Coloring can also improve your memory and cognitive flexibility

By Dr. Mercola

Stress is a significant health issue, affecting millions of people and contributing to health problems.

Although most people refer to it as psychological stress, the effects are felt throughout your body, affecting your immune system and triggering systemic inflammation, which contributes to numerous different illnesses, including heart disease, stroke, insomnia, weight gain, and an impaired immune system.

"Stress is not a state of mind ... it's measurable and dangerous, and humans can't seem to find their off-switch." These words of warning come from renowned author and award-winning neurobiologist Robert Sapolsky in the documentary "Stress: Portrait of a Killer."1

Stress reduction techniques are designed to help reduce the effects of stress on your body, and therefore improve your health. One strategy becoming more popular today is coloring.

The History of Coloring

  • Famed psychologist Carl Jung used to recommend his patients color to reduce their stress levels and feel calmer.2 Doctors continue to recommend coloring to reduce anxiety in their patients, taking advantage of both the structure and creativity inherent in the activity.
  • The first coloring book was created in 1880 by McLoughlin Brothers, later part of Milton Bradley Company. Their first book, "The Little Folks' Painting Book," is credited as the first published coloring book.3
  • Until 1970, adults were using children's coloring books if they wanted to enjoy staying within the lines with their children. Dover Publications was the first to publish a book aimed at adults in 1970, "Antique Automobiles," and has since declared August 2 the National Color Book Day.4
  • Coloring does the same for children and adults, helping to relieve stressors and encourage creativity. But, not all stress is created equally.

Top Five Myths About Stress

Successful stress management will reduce your potential risk for developing specific illnesses, but it depends on using the right information. Operating under the mistaken impression that the myths below are true will reduce the potential you'll enjoy less stress and better health.

  1. Only when you suffer from major symptoms of stress do you need to pay attention. This statement assumes that stomach acid, headaches, and irritable behavior are all symptoms you can ignore.
  2. You may believe that everyone experiences some degree of stress and these symptoms are to be expected when you live a fast-paced life. Unfortunately, 83 percent of Americans in the workplace feel frazzled and stressed about work issues.5

    Yes, more people are experiencing stress. But, just because more people are suffering doesn't mean that the symptoms should be considered a normal part of life.

  3. If you don't have symptoms, then you must not be experiencing any stress. The absence of symptoms does not mean the absence of stress. Some medications will reduce the visible symptoms.
  4. Sometimes your stress level is not high enough to produce visible symptoms, but will still trigger inflammation and contribute to illness and disease. Chronic stress triggers chemical and hormone release, similar to that experienced during the fight or flight response.

    When your body is exposed to these chemicals consistently, they lower your immunity, reduce the efficiency of your digestive system, and keep your reproductive system from functioning correctly.6

  5. There is not one universally effective method of reducing stress for everyone. Just like we are all individuals and react differently to different stimuli, our bodies will also interpret stress-reduction strategies differently.7
  6. Stress is motivating.You might even have said that you work best under stress. Let's distinguish the difference between being stressed, and being stimulated or motivated. Having deadlines, pushing yourself to capacity, or setting goals can motivate your actions.
  7. However, when you are frustrated, upset, or anxious, it will reduce your performance and abilities. If you are working under stress you are performing in spite of the stress, not because of it.

  8. Only negative stress is a problem. Interestingly, both positive and negative events in your life will produce a stress response in your body. The Holmes-Rahe Stress Inventory is a rating scale used to evaluate the amount of stress a particular life event will produce.
  9. Marriage, marital reconciliation, pregnancy, birth or adoption, and outstanding personal achievement rank in the top 25 life events that produce the most stress.8

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It's Not Just an Adult Problem

Teens also suffer from stress and stress-related health issues. Experts are concerned that the habits learned in adolescence for dealing with stress will carry over to adulthood.

In a national survey, more than 25 percent of students indicated they experience "extreme stress" during the school year as opposed to 13 percent during the summer.9 As a result of this stress, 40 percent report feeling irritable or angry and 36 percent report feeling nervous or anxious.

Interestingly, more girls reported being stressed than boys. This mirrors the accounts of more women than men reporting high stress levels. Kristen Race, author of "Mindful Parenting," said about teens:

"They're more honest in that situation than telling their parents how stressed they are. When teens report their own level of stress, it is typically much higher than parents would report of their teen's level of stress."

Not All Stress Is Bad

The stress response in your body is designed to help you stay focused, energized, and alert to your surroundings. When used correctly, it can help save your life in a dangerous situation or help you to make the best presentation at work.

Good stress can help you try new things or move out of your comfort zone. Your body will experience stress on a roller coaster, but it's short-lived and exhilarating at the same time. Exercise produces stress on your body, but it also helps your body to grow more muscle and reduces the effects of psychological stress.

Good stress is short-term, inspiring, and builds you up. The health issues occur when momentary stress becomes chronic, and your body releases cortisol on a consistent basis throughout the day. The long-term effects of cortisol release include suppressed immune system, adrenal fatigue, blood sugar imbalance, weight gain, cardiovascular disease, and inflammation.10

Coloring Focuses Your Mind and Soothes the Savage Beast

Coloring activities do more than help relieve stress. They also help train your mind to focus on one activity. Also called mindfulness, this activity will help reduce stress, improve your memory, reduce your emotional reactivity, and improve your cognitive flexibility.11

Each of these benefits also helps to reduce your stress response. However, they have additional benefits to your work life and relationships. Memory, emotional reactivity, and cognitive flexibility are necessary skills to improve your work performance.

Satisfaction with your relationships can also be tied to mindfulness. Your skill in communication and reducing your reactions to emotionally stressful triggers has a positive association with resolving relationship conflicts and improving your ability to express yourself in a variety of social situations.12

More You Can Do for Stress Reduction

Coloring is fun, easy, can be done with your children, reduces your stress, focuses your mind, and you feel seriously satisfied when you complete a picture. There are also other ways of reducing stress.

  1. Emotional Freedom Techniques, or EFT, is the largest and most popular version of energy psychology. Based on work by Gary Craig, a Stanford engineering graduate who specialized in healing and self-improvement, the process stimulates different energy meridians in much the same way as acupressure or acupuncture.
  2. However, the effects are accomplished through tapping over very specific areas of the body to help reprogram how your body responds to emotional stressors.

  3. Being outside can help reduce your stress levels and boost your mood. Walking outside has measurable mental health benefits, as demonstrated by Stanford researchers.13 They found that people who live in the city have a 20 percent higher risk of developing an anxiety disorder, and a 40 percent higher risk of other mood disorders compared to those who lived in more rural areas.
  4. Eating the right foods can help you manage your stress levels. Dark chocolate, bananas, protein, turmeric, purple berries, kiwi, foods high in omega-3, oolong tea, and fermented foods all rank as the foods providing your body with the best nutrients to fight stress.
  5. Exercise is a stress buster you should use daily. While exercising for 30 minutes each day can help reduce stress, so can getting out of your chair every 20 to 30 minutes to stretch and move around. Include walking for 20 minutes after dinner each evening in your daily routine to take advantage of getting out in nature, and boosting your activity levels.
  6. Stay connected with friends and relatives. Loneliness increases your stress levels,14 and staying connected with friends will reduce your loneliness. Go out for coffee or tea with friends, volunteer with a local organization, chat with people at the grocery store or gym, or take a class to meet like-minded individuals.