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Therapeutic benefits of adult coloring art

Most of us have childhood memories of the wonderful scent of a brand new box of crayons at the beginning of each school year. With those crayons, the creative possibilities were as endless as the many colors in the box.

Nostalgia is a powerful emotion.

Today, coloring is not limited to children. Adult coloring books, featuring designs from flowers to fanciful animals to intricate mandalas, are flying off the shelves and are being purchased from the Internet. The bookstore chain, Barnes & Noble, sells them. Adult coloring books are among the top 10 best-selling books on Amazon. From millennials to senior citizens, this simple childhood activity is becoming increasingly popular.

Holland Lake Nursing Center in Weatherford realized the benefits more than 10 years ago when they added adult coloring to the activity list.

Stephanie Haines, Holland’s activity director, says adult coloring jogs the seniors’ memories back to a time when life was simple and fun and also helps people with pain, due to their minds being set on the art.

“They get so consumed in what they’re doing that they forget they are waiting on pain meds to kick in,” Haines says.

Adult coloring is a social event, where residents are able to sit and talk about their lives in the present or reminisce over a coloring page, Haines says. “Coloring art is a wonderful way to just be creative and use their minds. It’s also a great way to use their hands and to be able to sit up and use their torso muscles,” she says. “One thing some residents say is they used to quilt or crochet but are just not able to do it anymore. They say it’s easier to do an art page.”

Holland resident Mary Raughton, 97, is nicknamed Grandma Moses. Before coming to the nursing center, she had never done any type of painting or coloring except with her children. Raughton now is an avid artist in watercolor and adult coloring. “She has done so many over the years,” Haines says. “She fell in love with coloring; she is very creative and detailed, including adding little marks on animal fur in her art.”

Jeanne Schikowski, 96, visits Holland for rehabilitation and coloring activities. Schikowski lives by herself in an assisted living apartment. She was an award-winning needlepoint crafter until her eyesight failed to the point she did not need to stress over the tedious work, she says. Her daughter ordered coloring books from Amazon, and the rest, as they say, is history. Schikowski uses her natural creative talents to make beautifully colored art pages.

Psychologist, author and artist Susanne Fincher grew up in West Texas where her introduction to mandalas was standing outside and noticing the Earth’s horizon, encircling her. That sense of being contained and protected by the circle has never left her, she says. She began doodling circles during a tough time in her life, and someone told her about psychoanalyst C.G. Jung’s work and mandalas. Since then, Fincher has created thousands of mandalas—on paper, with clay, and with natural materials like flowers, sticks, and fragrant spices. “When I create mandala designs for coloring, I feel like I am entering a partnership with the person who does the coloring,” she says.

Fincher has five mandala coloring books on the market: Four are lap-sized, and one mini mandala coloring book, good to take along anywhere. She is working on a new book called Creating Mandalas With Sacred Geometry, due out in 2017.

The focus of coloring is good right brain activity for anyone, especially seniors, Fincher says. “Since the right brain is associated with emotion, especially happiness and depression, engaging in a positive right brain activity can be soothing and uplifting. Making decisions is empowering, even making choices about which color to use next on your coloring pattern,” she continues. “The physical activity of using a pencil, marker, or paint brush brings attention to the present moment and relieves anxiety, which is usually caused by thinking about the future and what might happen. Finishing a coloring project also allows the satisfaction of completion. When designs colored are personally meaningful or spark imagination, pleasure centers in the brain may be stimulated. Sharing the finished coloring project can open up conversation between family members, care givers, and medical practitioners,” she says.

Resident Marie Frasier makes the most of her time. She has Rubbermaid bins in her room and colors art pages to decorate them. She also makes holiday pages to hang in her room and on residents’ doors. Fraiser makes birthday invitations and placemats for parties. She writes poetry on the art and sometimes adds stickers.

Linda Pack colors non-stop at Holland, Haines says. “She doesn’t care what she’s coloring; she just loves it. Linda had never done it before either,” Haines notes.

Holiday coloring books and mandalas are favorites with Holland residents, Haines says.

Coloring mandalas has special benefits for all ages, Fincher says.

“The form of the circle is an ancient symbol of wholeness that reminds people of safe, cozy places, such as our mother’s womb. Our Earth is circular, as are the sun and moon, so circles connect us to nature and the cycles of life. Young children spontaneously create mandalas in their drawings of the sun, stars, and people with arms and legs sprouting from their large heads. So it seems that drawing mandalas is part of growing up and establishing a sense of personal identity,” Fincher says.

Haines trains her staff about the importance of coloring and engages them in coloring books so they can understand how therapeutic it is. “Some are very surprised,” Haines says. “They usually say they are not even aware of the time while they are coloring. But most of all, it’s just fun. I think all nursing facilities should make this activity an important part of the residents’ lives.”

To donate adult coloring books, crayons, markers or coloring pencils to Holland Nursing Center, call 817.598.0160 or email [email protected].

To learn more about the benefits of mandalas coloring therapy, visit creatingmandalas.com.