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Colour Therapy: Fact or Fad?

There’s a new therapy in town, and it goes by name of ‘colouring’. That’s not a euphemism; I’m talking the popular childhood pastime we all know and love – from scribbling and scrawling to shading, you name it, everyone’s doing it. But is this just another fad that will fall by the wayside? There’s only one way to find out…

by Gemma Dunn


I loved colouring as a child, whether it was on long car journeys, in school, at a restaurant or keeping busy on rainy days – it was my ‘thing’. The brighter, the better. But as an adult, I lost the habit; much like many other activities associated with youth, there comes a time when you have to down the felt tips, realise you’re too big to hang out at the park and simply accept that until you – or those around you – produce offspring, you’re unlikely to indulge in such innocent, fun pursuits.

So what if that didn’t have to be the case? I’m not suggesting you should attempt the monkey bars, but how about trying your hand at some adult-intended colouring books? Judging by recent sales figures, you certainly wouldn’t be alone in your support for the revival of this favoured hobby.

But why colouring? According to the makers of such books, much of the appeal is rooted in nostalgia; a feeling of content, underpinned by an ability to revert to childhood purity. For me, it made me happy; it was something I could do alone (I always quite liked being the master of my own work) and I enjoyed presenting the end, polished product to those around me. For other children, colouring was a task that required little social interaction and minimal obligation, yet it was rewarding – after all, the idea of adding colour to an existing image is far less daunting than creating one from scratch.

Little has changed. I still thrive on the feeling of completion and I seek out therapeutic distractions to make me happy in what we all know can (sometimes) be a testing, overwhelming and stressful existence. With depression the commonest illness in the Western World, it’s important to discover new sources of light relief – and that’s exactly what I found in creative colouring for grown-ups.

From art and creative therapy to books that focus on de-stressing and aiding sleep, the range on the market may vary in subject but they all have the same objective in mind: to refocus the mind and to relax, unwind, and relieve the colourer of any worries and tension.


Only too happy to revert to the mental age of seven, I decided the best way to test the remedy would be to drag my work colleagues away from their laptops and decipher their stress levels before and after a mid-afternoon, hour-long colouring session. The rules: pick a book from the pile, explain your choice, and then colour to your heart’s content.

To begin, spirits were high; we not only had an hour or so of downtime but we were ready and willing to scribble our troubles away! insideSUSSEX‘s Sam Jones and Maz Ogden had both gone for the same title, The Neon Colouring Book; but there could only be one winner, and a triumphant Sam explained she had picked it because it was ‘bright, and bright colours make me happy’.

Maz’s second choice was Animorphia, while over in the insideKENT corner Donna had opted for I Love Colouring Patterns, and Alex for An Anti-Stress Colouring Book. Their motives? Donna assured me she picked a smaller volume to enable herself to finish the chosen page and feel accomplished; and Alex, simply because it was the first one he saw.

Stress levels at this point were mixed across the board, but all willing to improve and lower the degree further, we embraced the practice. At this point, the highest (out of 10) was Donna at 11+… and the lowest, Alex at four.

In the period that followed, myself and the group incessantly coloured an array of tranquil patterns and doodles in felt tips and pencils; the only issues being aching hands, staying within the lines and finishing what we had started within the time slot. Incredibly serious stuff!


At the end of the hour, all but one had enjoyed the experience and remarked that they would continue the ‘therapy’ at home due to the effect it had on diminishing stress. Alex, who admitted it ‘wasn’t for him’ felt more stressed out, while the remaining team members (all female, interestingly enough) loved it and welcomed its ‘brain-numbing’ effect and creativity! In terms of the stress-o-meter, levels had decreased with the highest now at six and lowest at one – dubbing the process an overall success.

However, one aspect I found particularly interesting was the focus on colour. ‘What’s your favourite colour?’ is a common childhood question, and while this may seem nothing more than a routine query it’s important to remember that colour provides a direct link to our emotions and in turn, can reflect how we feel about ourselves.

From intense reds to serene blues, calming pastels and more, the team flitted between shades, but what about the colour they picked first? Maz explained she opted for pink because ‘it’s her favourite colour’, while purple was my initial pick for the simple reason that I was most attracted to it that very moment.

For us adults, it seems colouring promotes a sense of relaxation – the ability to immerse oneself in a simple activity to achieve what is predominantly the onset of a state of meditation. For me, the concentration that comes from picking the right page to work on, using complimentary colours and maintaining symmetry is consuming, and as a result, all other thoughts pale in comparison. And ironically, while it allows freedom from thought, it gives you a clear headspace to think too…however that may work!

Since looking into this new-found therapy, I’ve discovered it’s not just me who fancies retaining a bit of childishness; having told my peers, I’ve been inundated with requests from those who want to also ‘test’ the theory and, I feel, regain a slice of their childhood. It’s fun, silly and light-hearted – and maybe that’s just what we need amid the everyday rat race. Now I’ve relived my colouring days, I certainly won’t be giving up The I Can’t Sleep Colouring Book anytime soon – fad or no fad.

The I Can’t Sleep Colouring Book (O’Mara Books) is out now, £5.99.

For the full range of titles in the adult colouring books range, visit


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