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Adult colouring books are ‘recess for adults’

An art therapist explains the limits of these books as a tool for dealing with stress

Katie Brousseau going through her adult colouring book.
Katie Brousseau going through her adult colouring book.   Aya Al-Hakim

Katie Brousseau loves to colour, even in class.

The social work major colours as she listens to class lectures, particularly the long ones.

She says she absorbs the information better this way because colouring helps her focus in class without feeling stressed.

“It feels energizing and refreshing,” she says.

She considers it a temporary meditative practice.

“I’m in my head a lot so colouring is a way to re-centre and to put my energy into something more creative,” says Brousseau, holding two of her adult colouring books, Mandala Meditation and Color Me Stress Free.

Colouring the stress away has become “the modern day recess for adults,” she says.

Mandala Meditation
An example of the mandala colouring books.   Aya Al-Hakim

Adult colouring books like Harry Potter: Coloring Book and Creative Haven Creative Cats Coloring Book rank as some of the top-selling items on Amazon Canada.

Michaels, the art and craft store, runs colouring sessions. People are given scans from adult colouring books and colouring materials like crayons and markers.

“You just pop in and colour. There is no teaching,” says Kyle Croft, an employee at the Michaels store in Halifax.

“The point is not only to de-stress, but also to get to know other people in the community.”

Colouring books feature prominently in bookstores like Bookmark, an independent store in Halifax.

Neil Terry, an employee at Bookmark, says calling it an adult colouring book makes it attractive.

“It is media attention,” he said, adding that he believes the trend is being advertised in an effective way, by saying that these books can help in dealing with stress.

Whether people use adult colouring books to cope with stress or to just bide the time, art therapist Nick Zwaagstra hopes the trend is a starting point to get people to create something of their own.

Zwaagstra says he believes adult colouring books can be calming and good for focus, but he doesn’t use them as part of his art therapy sessions.

“It is important for people to create something of their own,” he says.

He believes the act of creation expands one’s creativity and strengthens problem-solving skills.

“Brain restoration happens in the process of thinking how to deal with blank space and how to transform it,” he says. “And that is quite different with what is going on in colouring an existing image.”

Zwaagstra says that there must be room for reflection in dealing with stress that colouring in books does not provide.

Brousseau finds that as a poet, writing has more of an impact on her. But with research papers to complete, she doesn’t always have time to write.

“If I am writing and articulating what I’m thinking then I find it way more satisfying,” she says, “because it is a concrete example of me expressing my feelings.”