By James Greig for Metro
August 2nd was National Colouring Book Day. This seems as good a time as any to consider the adult colouring book trend, which really took off in the UK in 2015 and … hasn’t been talked about much since.
Are adults still using colouring books? Are they as good for mental health as people claim?
First, the bad news: these are hard times for adult colouring books. Hailed as the saviour to the publishing industry in the middle of the decade, by 2017 sales had plummeted so dramatically that there were a spate of articles concerning the death of the trend. But that said, a quick Google suggests that the trend is soldiering on.
You can still buy books with titles like I Hate My Ex-Husband (aimed at people who hate their ex-husbands).
What could be more rib-ticklingly funny than using swear words in a genre of book traditionally thought of as being aimed at children?
During the boom years, adult colouring books were bought en-masse, whether by people trying them out for themselves or as stocking-filler gifts for their least favourite relatives, many of whom would find that they weren’t that into them.
But there seems to be a small, steady market of people who simply enjoy doing them, or else find them therapeutic. In that sense, the trend is unlikely to vanish outright. As for the much discussed mental health benefits, these have been backed up by research.
One 2017 study showed that using adult colouring books does actually reduce symptoms of stress and anxiety – which confirms what plenty of people had been saying all along.
But are people who experience anxiety or depression still using these books as a way of improving their mental health? If adult colouring books really are an effective way of alleviating symptoms, this doesn’t seem like something which would simply tail off as a passing fad.
We spoke with Olivia, who lives with anxiety and still occasionally uses colouring books, though not as much as she used to.
“I find they’re really good when you just need to step outside of yourself for a little bit,” she says.
“Even though making my own art is a good outlet when I’m really anxious, I sometimes find having to create from the self can be a bit daunting and anxiety-inducing in itself. Colouring books take that pressure off. They let me zone out and reset.
“I always compare them to Buddhist monks creating mandalas,” Olivia continues. “It’s about focusing on one thing in front of you. It’s definitely meditative. Even destroying the pages afterwards is a really nice reminder that everything is impermanent, and that this too shall pass.”
Although, in one sense, the whole point is that colouring books don’t leave much scope for individual creativity, Olivia says that she still makes her mark.
“When looking back on certain pages, I can immediately tell what mental state I was in when I did them: how hard I was pressing, how loose or manic my strokes were, what image or colours I chose,” she explains.
For Olivia, and many others like her, adult colouring books are more than a short-lived publishing trend. Instead, they are an important act of self-care which helps them to manage their conditions – and there’s nothing childish about that.