Adult coloring books are in. If it wasn’t clear over the past year, it certainly was by Christmas, where its prolific presence crystallized its success. As Emily Mae Schmid recently shared on Verily, it’s a permeating and positive trend for our culture, signifying that we’re bringing leisure time back as a healthy aspect of a well-balanced life.
Dr. Michael Roizen, chief officer for the Cleveland Clinic explains that the nature of creativity requires so much focus that it clears the mind—which counters stress. “For those people who focus on creativity—on creative writing or writing a poem or whatever it is—they’re absolutely consumed by that at the time they’re doing it,” he tells the Boston Globe. The intense focus creativity requires gives us a break from the over stimulation the world throws at us.
While I’m all about testing new creative trends—especially if they have calming meditative qualities—coloring books might be great, but they’re not the only way to tap into your inner Zen. Personally, I’ve never been one to color inside the lines. If you want to get your creative juices flowing, here are some other ideas that can give you a similar sense of peace and accomplishment.
A recent study shows the tactile act can be a real physical way to self-sooth. “Art can be a refuge from the intense emotions associated with illness,” explains Heather L. Stuckey, DEd and Jeremy Nobel, MD, MPH. “In particular, molding clay can be a powerful way to help people express these feelings through tactile involvement at a somatic level, as well as to facilitate verbal communication and cathartic release and reveal unconscious materials and symbols that cannot be expressed through words.”
Don’t just take their highly-technical word for it. While pottery isn't as convenient as taking out colored pencils and a coloring book, there are few things as soothing as sculpting wet clay and spinning a pottery wheel. If you’re one to get your hands dirty and love the organic simplicity, this option is worth exploring at a class or kiln near you.
The first time I was introduced to real watercolors, along with the extreme patience it takes to do them well (hence, I’m not very good at them), I remember a friend in my studio class remarking, “No wonder watercoloring was so popular in Victorian times.” The precision and attention to detail are exactly those qualities that the Victorians prized. The intense focus it requires has been proven to greatly reduce anxiety according to recent experiments. If you’re into details but ok with the natural imprecision of water, watercoloring might be the ideal anxiety-reducer for you.
Remember when the act of writing was more than finding the right word and typing away? Neither do I. But there was a time when it was beyond an effective communication tool—it was an art, too. In practicing calligraphy, we can recall that ancient custom—and it’s not without its benefits, according to recent studies. For older adults, experiments showed that calligraphy can help sharpen otherwise deteriorating brain skills such as attention and calculation. For younger adults, like students, it was shown to have a significant effect on reducing stress—similar to the benefits of meditation. Plus, if you get good at it, it can be an excellent way to make extra money on wedding invites.
Ever had the inclination to sing away your sorrows to a forlorn love song? Turns out singing does so much more than communicate the human experience. In another study, joining a choir can have an incredible effect on one’s mental health and wellbeing. Not only is the act of singing a meditative quality in itself—hello deep breathing exercises—it’s often a social activity that brings a sense of focus and community around the act. According to one 34-year old woman in the study: “Keeps me happy. Is an excellent hobby. Sociable activity. Need no special equipment—easy to carry voice around. I have clinical depression, so it really helps me.” It has even shown to reduce the effects of PTSD.
05. Knitting & Crocheting
According to Verily contributor, Lindsay Schlegel, knitting was was a critical tool that helped her heal during her miscarriage. The repetitive stitches and the slow movement towards creating can be an utterly soothing way of calming and focusing your mind. Schlegel explains that it was a way to give gifts too. “I prefer to knit for others than myself,” which adds a layer of community and self-giving to an oft solitary act.
Quilting, like knitting, is another tactile way of calming oneself that creates not just a piece of art, but a useful piece of art that will make your inner-hippy feel pretty good about upcycling. “I often use old pieces of cloth that would otherwise be recycled or given away,” shares my former roommate and quilter Kristin B. Unlike other crafts, you can revisit the past in a way that other crafts don’t. “Not only does this make me feel like my hobby is environmentally friendly—but it can be a great way to use fabrics that once brought me joy in other ways, such as giving my favorite shirt a second life.”
Unless you grew up on a farm or a home with a big yard, chances are, you don’t exactly feel connected to one of the most natural creative activities: the creation of our food. Gardening may not seem like a “creative” activity but, rather, an executional one.
Yet I’d argue that, at its core, it’s possibly one of the most organic stress outlets. According to an experiment on community gardening conducted in South-East Toronto, it has many benefits, including a higher inclination to eat your veggies: "In addition, the opportunity for physical activity that gardening presented was seen as beneficial to health, especially for the elderly. For many, being part of a community garden was stress-relieving, and was thought to contribute to improved mental health. These findings are consistent with much of the existing literature, which similarly suggests that community gardening can lead to positive health outcomes through improved nutrition, increased physical activity and enhanced mental health."
I’m not knocking on coloring books. For many, they’re the epitome of convenient stress relief. After all, you can’t exactly sing or garden on an airplane or in your office. Just think of their soaring popularity as an opportunity to find something creative that you can integrate into your life and your tastes to help you grow into a healthier and happier woman one act of leisure at a time.
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