The Mindfulness Debate: Drawing or Coloring?

Art is a mood booster. Back in 2015 when the coloring book craze was taking over, many advertisements touted the trend as a way to meditate and get the creative sections of the brain going. Tapping into that creative mindfulness helps to stabilize emotions. Even though the coloring book trend has declined from the frenzy of before, you can still find stacks of books on shelves everywhere.

How effective is coloring for boosting mood and mental health? Is drawing better for mindfulness? Let’s dive into it.

Drawing vs. Coloring

Art researchers Jennifer Forkosh and Jennifer E. Drake have conducted art therapy studies, exploring the mental benefits of drawing. Drawing has shown marked mood improvements. Wondering if coloring could have a similar benefit, they set off to conduct new studies.

Two studies already published in the Journal of American Art Therapy on coloring focused on how it alleviates anxiety. Forkosh and Drake developed a new study and compared drawing to coloring, examining each activity’s effectiveness for mood improvement.

Was drawing a better creative outlet or was the ease of coloring better?

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Trying A New Study

A study in 2011 found that drawing helps with short-term mood changes. Drake and Forkosh wondered if that was because of the act of creating or merely because of the distraction.

“We originally hypothesized that drawing—a demanding task where you have to plan and organize what you’re going to do—would lead to greater mood improvement than coloring,” Drake explains. “We felt that coloring is more passive; even though you have to plan how you’re going to arrange and color your design, it’s not as involved.”

The new study had 70 participants (undergraduate students aged 18 to 46). A quick questionnaire about their mood started the study. Participants were asked to think about a sad event for three minutes then rated their mood again. They were assigned coloring, drawing a design or drawing the sad event, which was called “expressing.”

The mood survey was taken again after fifteen minutes passed. Both coloring and drawing led to mood improvement and were something distracting from the everyday worries. The group that was expressing the sad event saw lower mood improvement though.

Mindfulness, Flow and a Happier Mental State

A questionnaire given after the activities did suggest that coloring was more conducive than drawing for the mental state of flow–the concept developed by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, which is a state of balance between a person’s skill level and the challenge of the task itself. Flow can be achieved through yoga, writing, meditation or other activities. It often helps with stabilizing emotions.

According to Drake, “When we’re in states of flow, we lose track of time, we’re totally absorbed or in the zone, almost.”

“Coloring doesn’t have that balance between challenge and skill,” she continues, “but there is a new concept called microflow, which is thought to be a simulation of flow, where you’re experiencing a relaxed state, and it may be that those in the coloring condition were having this experience.”

Both drawing and coloring were effective at mood-boosting simply because they’re engaging activities. “Both are shifting the participant’s mind away from the negative event they thought of—I think that’s why they both resulted in improved mood,” Drake says.

Coloring seemed to be the winner in their study, but clearly any kind of art creation can be a mood booster. Yet another reason to keep creating!

Tap into your creative mindfulness and download a free set of coloring pages by clicking the image below.

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