We probably say “stress” a lot. Especially in recent times, what with the pandemic looming over us, coupled with several uncertainties and restrictions. There are actually two types of stress: distress (negative), and eustress (positive). We’ll go into a brief overview of stress later on, but suffice it to say that stress, or distress specifically, can lead to a host of mental and physical health conditions, as the immune system can weaken when we experience negative emotions. Therefore, it’s imperative that we handle or manage stress properly, so that we can remain happily functional and healthy as well. Recently, I’ve been trying out colouring, and this is me sharing my colouring experience with you in regards to stress relief!
What Is Stress?
According to Robert E. Franken in his book Human Motivation (Sixth Edition), “stress is typically viewed as a uniquely human emotion that results from the way we appraise the world.” (Making good use of my college textbook, y’all.) In a general context, stress has a negative connotation attached to it. Think about it. We use the word “stress” when stuck in traffic, dealing with people we don’t like, rushing for deadlines… Basically, the whole stress thing is about how we adapt to “threats” or challenges, and how we respond to them. To continue from the discourse of distress, and eustress above, here’s a summary:
- Distress: You view an event as threatening, giving rise to negative feelings
- Eustress: You view an event as challenging, and are most likely to engage in coping responses
In short, to maintain our health, Franken says again in his textbook that “we need to develop certain health-enabling behaviours, including coping.”
Do I Think That I Am Stressed?
Before we get into the colouring and stress relief part, it’s probably better to know if I think, or know, if I am stressed, so that the effects of colouring on me are better explained.
I think I’m no more stressed than the average person, honestly. My life basically centres around writing, or words. I produce articles like this during the day, and I write fiction stories at night. I hate when people tell me it’s “urgent”, but it never is. To a certain extent, I can work well under pressure, but I don’t like deadlines looming over me all the time. Thankfully, I don’t get that often. I enjoy my job a lot, though sometimes I also feel like I could and should be doing more. As for “more” of what, exactly, I haven’t figured that out. Obviously I’d like to always have a bigger income, but I am under no financial stress, or any heavy commitments. I do sometimes get anxious about tasks and responsibilities though, and occasionally, things tick me off and negatively affect me so much that I can’t concentrate on the work at hand.
Does Colouring Help Me Relieve Stress?
Personally, it does, actually. I’m currently colouring Johanna Basford’s Lost Ocean, though it’s going very slowly. At the moment, I don’t make it a habit to colour every day, or even regularly, because I do a lot of other things as well. (Okay, they’re mainly reading and writing.) But when I do colour, I find that it helps me calm down, even if it doesn’t exactly put me in a better mood. Here’s my most recent experience just last week:
I was really ticked off about something and couldn’t get any work done. In an attempt to distract myself, I went and vacuumed the floor and do some other householdy chores. Did not work. So I broke out my colouring book, hit play on Spotify’s “Acoustic Favourites” playlist, and switched off my WiFi. I did that for an hour, and my anger level went from boiling point to a low simmer. I call that a win. Here are some of my thought processes or why I think it helps me when I colour:
- The spaces are kind of small, and require a lot of your focus, but not so much that it’s taxing. So if you’re focusing on that, you can’t really focus on anything else.
- It becomes kind of a soothing routine: pick up colouring tool, colour, put it down; always changing colour.
- You get a sense of satisfaction filling in colours; somewhat like being proud of your creation, even though it’s just colouring.
- There’s no sense of responsibility attached to it. You colour as much or as little as you like, whenever you want, however you want.
Why Did I Start Colouring?
I’ve always wanted to try colouring ever since the trend blew up a couple of years ago, but I never bought any colouring books. (Because I was too busy buying fiction books all the time.) Lost Ocean was given to me as a gift early this year, so I tried it on and off to a pretty positive result. I was also “afraid” that I would mess up the beautiful pictures by disgusting colour combos and/or unskilled colouring, but eh. If I can colour, so can you. Do whatever you like with it. I somehow managed to create colourful pieces, but you can see some fish here and there which are solid colour blocks; I did those when I was really angry and actually didn’t even want to choose colours but just get that energy out.
Benefits Of Colouring
You can try out colouring for yourself if you want to, but research also suggests that it might not be as helpful for everyone. Apparently, whether or not you find colouring helpful/enjoyable/therapeutic now depends a lot on your prior experiences i.e. if you enjoyed colouring as a child, it’s likely that you will also enjoy it as an adult. The opposite applies. Nevertheless, here are some benefits of colouring!
1) It reduces stress and anxiety
Which I can vouch for. The attention on yourself or your problems is redirected to the colouring task at hand, so you don’t think about your problems. According to beaumont.org, colouring also helps relax the fear centre of the brain, the amygdala. It also induces the same state as meditating by reducing thoughts of a restless mind, generating mindfulness and quietness.
2) Exercises your brain
Colouring requires both hemispheres of the brain, employing both logic and creativity. Colouring in (or out) of the lines is logical, whereas selecting colours or how to blend them (or whatever you choose to do) is a creative process.
3) Improves focus
As mentioned above, colouring narrows down your focus to… well, colouring, but not so much that it becomes stressful. Instead of getting carried away by thoughts and emotions, you can actually live in the moment, focusing on the present.
4) Low stakes
It’s not a responsibility, and there are no rules. As someone once told me, “If you feel like colouring the whole thing black, do it.” I don’t know how you feel about the intricate, elaborate pictures, and whether or not you might feel “intimidated”, but once you start colouring, you realise that you can literally do whatever you want, whatever that makes you feel good, and that’s okay.
5) A self-soothe routine
i.e. not turning to other perhaps more destructive coping behaviours, or letting your emotions simmer within till it just explodes one day. If you find that it’s helpful, colouring can be your go-to whenever you feel stressed, sad, or angry as a way to cope. For me, it has turned into an activity while my anger runs its course. Much better than talking to other people for fear of saying hurtful things.
6) Improves quality of sleep
If you colour right before going to bed, I suppose. I don’t, so I can’t tell you if this works for sure. The idea is that you get all the benefits above, and the added benefit of not staring at your screen before sleeping. We all know the disadvantages of screens before bedtime: the lights and stuff messes with your sleep hormones. So colouring before bed = better sleep because that doesn’t mess with your sleep hormones.
So, does colouring really help relieve stress? My answer to this is yes. At the very least, it helps me regain a state of balanced emotions, so that I’m less likely to be driven by emotions that are running high and a compulsion that may lead to undesirable actions. Also, it’s a great activity if you think you have nothing to do at home (MCO woes). So why not try out colouring, and let us know what you think of it!