by Jess Howard
TW: Suicide, self-harm, anxiety.
A year ago, hearing the words adult colouring books would have conjured up bizarre images of decorating mildly pornographic imagery with gel pens and coloured pencils. Fast forward to the end of 2015 and colouring books designed specifically for adults has become the new craze. From Harry Potter-themed books to those focused on the 1960s, almost everyone has encountered this new fad at some point. But where does it stem from, and does it really work?
Early in 2014 I was diagnosed with severe anxiety. I had recently attempted suicide, was severely self harming and could barely leave the house. On more than one occasion I’d find myself frozen in the middle of the city, convinced that everyone was staring at me because of my size. Holding down a job was impossible, and I even started to randomly collapse as my body struggled to cope with the amount of adrenaline surging through my body.
No longer dismissing it as a fad that would soon disappear, I had found a way of controlling small patches of anxiety by myself.
This fight or flight response was taking over my life, and I was prescribed incredibly strong medication traditionally used to treat epilepsy. During one of many appointments with my psychiatric case worker, it was recommended that I try mindfulness. Defined as simply distracting your mind and focusing on something specific, I initially thought of it as a load of rubbish, a fad that would eventually disappear before being replaced with something else.
But it was the plethora of adult colouring books appearing on the high street that finally got me to understand the point of what my psychiatrist was trying to say. Focusing yourself on something that requires your undivided attention has the potential to distract your mind, effectively taking it away from what is making you anxious. Allowing you to reach a state of calm and carry on with your day.
These books aren’t your traditional colouring books. They are detailed, intricate, and require the user to fully pay attention to what they are doing. No longer dismissing it as a fad that would soon disappear, I had found a way of controlling small patches of anxiety by myself.
Since then I have become an advocate of simply switching off my brain with an hour or so of colouring. I’ve gifted and recommended them to friends, and become owner to a collection of brightly coloured pens and pencils that would rival that of a reception class. Whilst some sellers hike up the price due to their overwhelming popularity, supplies can be bought relatively cheaply online and are great for people who are adverse to taking medication.
This time of year, stress often reaches its peak. With budgets sinking lower with every Christmas or Hanukkah present you buy, and shopping centres becoming fuller and fuller with each passing minute, gift buying for family members is often overwhelming. Adding to that, the pressure of meeting family and friends in a situation where you are meant to feel happy and celebratory can be difficult for those struggling with general stress, mental health issues, and anxiety. Not only that, but the colder weather and shorter days mean seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is incredibly common. Far from stress and anxiety being out of the norm, Christmas is the time when we can struggle the most.
Far from stress and anxiety being out of the norm, Christmas is the time when we can struggle the most.
For this reason, bringing some art and colour into your life is a perfect way of distancing yourself from the hustle and bustle of the season. Taking even 15 minutes to yourself is a great way of bringing calm and relaxation into your day, even if it requires a set of headphones to block out the noise. Even if you don’t believe these popular tools are for you, they make amazing presents in their own right. Because what better gift can you give a friend or family member, than the gift of calm.