Who doesn’t remember the joy of dipping sticky fingers into paint and squiggling away on paper! Art – be it drawing, painting, sketching, or doodling – has always been an important part of the human experience. Now, research shows that painting and coloring can reduce anxiety, improve psychological resilience, bring about a meditative state, and improve fine motor skills. Painting also helps people safely express traumatic experiences and has even been shown to encourage people with Alzheimer's to express their feelings. So whether you’re feeling stressed or just want to experience the joy of creating art, just pick up a crayon!
Who doesn’t remember the joy of dipping sticky fingers into paint and squiggling away on paper! Drawing, painting, and coloring are a delightful part of childhood but these simple pleasures are often waylaid as you grow up. Today, however, adult coloring books are all the rage and grownups are rediscovering the joys of painting and coloring – and the health benefits they bring. But did you know that even as early as a hundred years ago, Carl Jung considered the drawing of mandalas to be an indication of self-discovery?
So how does painting or coloring affect the body and mind?
Sharpen The Brain
Research has shown that creating visual art or painting can improve psychological resilience and increase brain activity in areas that deal with cognitive processes like introspection, self-monitoring, and memory.1 Visual art like drawing or painting tend to improve the interaction between the different parts of the brain, giving your brain a welcome tune-up!
Delve Deep Within
When a person is actively involved in the creative process, cortical focus narrows, kinetic movement increases, and oxygen infuses the brain, creating an altered state of consciousness. This focus helps you to separate yourself from the routines of everyday life, sometimes “like you almost don’t exist.”2 The eminent psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has described the state of being completely absorbed in an activity as being in a state of flow. According to him, when a person is completely involved in an activity for its own sake, “The ego falls away. Time flies.”3
Beat The Stress
Research has shown that coloring helps to reduce stress. A study that compared the effectiveness of coloring a mandala (an intricate geometric pattern), a plaid pattern, and unstructured coloring found that anxiety levels declined more in the groups that colored mandalas or plaid patterns. This suggests that structured coloring of a complex geometric pattern may induce a meditative state that helps with anxiety.4
Soothe The Pain
Art is also used in therapy to safely express traumatic experiences. The Handbook of Art Therapy describes the case of a boy who could not express the hurt he felt when his sister was murdered, but he was able to pick up a color pencil and draw a picture of “what that hurt looks like.” Remembering and retelling a difficult past through art can have therapeutic value. According to clinical psychologist Doris Arrington, it allows “past physical or mental insults to lose their importance so they may be forgiven or forgotten, and the person can move forward.”5 The psychomotor activity of drawing triggers sensory memories of the traumatic experience and helps you deal with it.6
Have Your Say
Whether it’s the masterpiece of a maestro or a child’s doodle, artwork as a language can speak volumes and are often a channel of communication. One Norwegian study found that children of native and immigrant backgrounds were able to communicate much better with each other during painting and drawing activities as against other verbal and nonverbal communication outside the art sessions.7 Art can help people with Alzheimer’s express their feelings when they can no longer do so with words. Research also shows that art therapy can improve the vitality and quality of life of people with mild Alzheimer’s disease.8
Brush Up On Fine Motor Skills
Coloring requires coordination between the hands and eyes. This stimulates the areas of the brain involved in vision and motor skills and helps maintain brain synapses. Basically, neural pathways rust with time if they’re not used, and coloring amounts to a workout for your brain!
Though we may not yet recognize all the benefits of art and painting – or understand all the mechanisms through which it benefits our mind and body – human beings have always been instinctively drawn to art. After all, even the caveman drew on his walls. So whether you want to take your mind off the million things going on in your life or feel the sheer joy of creating art, grab a crayon and color away!
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||Bolwerk, Anne, Jessica Mack-Andrick, Frieder R. Lang, Arnd Dörfler, and Christian Maihöfner. “How art changes your brain: differential effects of visual art production and cognitive art evaluation on functional brain connectivity.” PloS one 9, no. 7 (2014): e101035.|
|2, 5.||↑||Arrington, Doris Banowsky. Home is where the art is: An art therapy approach to family therapy. Charles C Thomas Publisher, 2001.|
|3.||↑||Go With The Flow. Wired Magazine.|
|4.||↑||Curry, Nancy A., and Tim Kasser. “Can coloring mandalas reduce anxiety?.” Art Therapy 22, no. 2 (2005): 81-85.|
|6.||↑||Malchiodi, Cathy A., ed. Handbook of Art Therapy. Guilford Press, 2011.|
|7.||↑||Elin, Setara. “Drawing and Painting as a Tool for Communication.” (2012).|
|8.||↑||Hattori, Hideyuki, Chikako Hattori, Chieko Hokao, Kumiko Mizushima, and Toru Mase. “Controlled study on the cognitive and psychological effect of coloring and drawing in mild Alzheimer’s disease patients.” Geriatrics & gerontology international 11, no. 4 (2011): 431-437.|