For many Penn students, the turnout of the 2017 presidential election felt as if a grey pencil washed out College Hall’s green and all of our campus's color. With the prospect of Trump’s America paining him as he left for winter break, Stephen Damianos (C'19), a strong campaigner for Hillary Clinton, found an adult–coloring app. Although Stephen used to poke fun at his mom for loving coloring books, he soon became “slightly addicted to it.” He realized that coloring was “very relaxing, but a little stressful when [he] colored outside of the lines.” Stephen is not alone in this feeling. The pressure at Penn to always be doing something productive makes it difficult for students to relax, unwind and “color outside the lines” in their own lives. Stephen urges his peers to “take care of themselves and find healthy and safe ways to do that…and if for some people coloring is a colorful and safe way to get away from the insanity of the America we now live in, then I think that is a really great thing.”
As you walk into various stores, you may notice that adult coloring books line more shelves than they have in the past. Michael's, Target and Barnes & Nobles now stock more coloring books than they previously have, due to their high popularity; Michael’s previously had 150 titles on shelves in 2016 and promises even more variety in 2017. If there are bigger issues to be solved in the world, why are adults spending time filling in swirly shapes on a piece of paper or tablet? One answer is that taking a break from the complexity of those big issues—even just to color—is essential for mental health. Medical Daily says that, coloring places the brain in a meditative state and can alleviate high stress and anxiety levels. Focusing on the present while coloring allows one to achieve mindfulness and promotes creation over consumption.
Art therapy techniques such as coloring can also aid individuals with conditions such as depression, anxiety and PTSD. In a study, scholar Linda Adeniyi discovered that group art therapy interventions were effective with adult female victims of sexual violence. Coloring helped victims to gain control, support, and understanding of symptoms.
“My therapist recommended that I try adult coloring books when I was trying to overcome my PTSD from being sexually assaulted," said Bella* (C‘19). "At the time of assault, I was empty and did not know where to turn for purpose, really. Actively doing something creative that was also so colorful allowed me to create beautiful things using my body and was a bright alternative to passively hurting."
The variety of options to choose from when selecting an adult coloring book are endless—even at the Penn Bookstore. Alexis Kalargheros (N ’18) loves her Harry Potter edition coloring book from the bookstore. During finals, she would color between exams she had on the same day and said the experience was “very relaxing and calming and prepared [her] for her next exam.” The bookstore sells numerous adult coloring books with different themes including: The Chronicles of Narnia official coloring book, Animals of the World coloring book, Magical Creatures edition and more. There are even planners and calendars for sale (now 50% off!) that offer a calming stencil for every day of the year, as well as postcards to snail–mail to distant friends and family. We all know days at Penn could use a little mindfulness, even if you have to swap your G–cal for a coloring book.