Adult colouring Books – Relax and de-stress

There is a new mantra among strung-out women looking to de-stress from the daily pressures of juggling work and family life: stay between the lines.

Yes, colouring for adults — taking a pack of pens or crayons and fastidiously filling in intricate patterns and pictures in books, which are being marketed at grown-ups — is a modern phenomenon.

A cursory glance at Amazon’s Top Ten bestselling books list proves the point. Though E. L. James is reigning with Grey, the latest money- spinner in her Fifty Shades series, you don’t have to look much further down the chart to find Millie Marotta’s Animal Kingdom — A Colouring Book Adventure, at number three, or The Mindfulness Colouring Book by Emma Farrarons, at number nine.

At one point last month, five out of the Top Ten titles were colouring-in books. For adults.

Publishers are reporting sales figures in the hundreds of thousands. Independent book publisher Michael O’Mara has built up a series of 28 titles and sold more than half a million copies so far, including The Can’t Sleep Colouring Book, which sold more than 2,000 copies last week.

And those thousands of sales reflect the many thousands of British women who are turning to colouring in.

The boom is being attributed to a modern preoccupation with nostalgia, combined with the fact that when it comes to relaxation, colouring has surprisingly scientific results.

‘It’s all about how colouring in helps alter brainwaves,’ says clinical psychologist Dr David Holmes.

‘When we’re alert and attentive, with the brain engaged in decision-making and problem-solving, it operates using beta brainwaves — precisely what’s needed when you need to think on your feet.’

But beta brainwaves require a great deal of mental energy and the brain can’t continue to effectively function in that mode. Just as a car engine overheats if you continually rev it, keeping the brain in high gear puts it under a level of pressure it cannot sustain healthily.

Colouring Books
Colouring Books

To relax, says Dr Holmes, you must shift down a gear so the brain starts using alpha brainwaves — a transition some people find difficult.

‘Unsurprisingly these people are the same ones who tend to go on to develop problems such as anxiety, depression and insomnia,’ he says.

If you were to get someone who predominantly operates in beta mode to start colouring in, and at the same time attach them to an electro-encephalogram (EEG) — a machine that records brain activity — Dr Holmes says you would soon start to observe these all-important alpha brainwaves take over.

‘That’s because colouring in is an ambient activity that gives the brain something simple to focus on, so it doesn’t become bored and frustrated, but without any complex thinking or planning to do,’ he says.

‘Also, those alpha waves are often associated with child brain activity; that nostalgic, childlike element to colouring in actually helps add to its effectiveness.’

Psychotherapist Abigail Eaton Masters started prescribing colouring books as homework to her clients last year, and uses one herself. ‘I have clients who were self-medicating with alcohol because they were hitting the end of the day in such a state of heightened anxiety they couldn’t sleep and so used booze to help them switch off.

‘They’re finding picking up a colouring book instead much more effective at helping them wind down and relax before bed and the quality of their sleep has improved. I’ve even given one to a client who was suffering so badly from anxiety that self-harming felt like her only release. Now, when she feels compelled to do that, she reaches for her book instead and focuses on colouring in until the urge passes.’

Colouring Books
Colouring Books

But it was a man who launched the craze — publisher Michael O’Mara, who hit upon the idea in 2012 during an editorial brainstorming meeting. ‘We produce some really beautiful colouring books for children, and someone cleverly suggested: “Why not try and do this for adults?”’ says senior editorial director Louise Dixon. ‘Everyone leapt on the idea.’

She says that some illustrators were ‘a bit sniffy’ when asked to contribute colouring in books for adults. Not so children’s illustrator and colouring book designer Richard Merritt, recently in Amazon’s Top Ten with Art Therapy Colouring Book.

‘I go into much more detail with these books than the ones I produce for children,’ he says.

‘They need to be elaborately patterned and highly detailed to keep an adult engaged.

‘At the start I consulted with a psychologist who explained that symmetry and heavily patterned imagery is more appealing to the brain, so I always bear that in mind when I’m designing a new page.

‘Funnily enough, when I’m drawing I seem to go into auto-pilot. The patterns just seem to flow.

‘So even that side of these books has turned out to be a very relaxing process.’

Into the wild movie – Ten years on

Still a timeless classic.

After graduating from college in the Spring of 1990, Christopher McCandless, a young man from a wealthy but dysfunctional family, went out to dinner with his parents and discussed his plans for law school. They ended the evening on polite, encouraging terms. The next day, McCandless withdrew all of his savings and donated it to Oxfam, cut up his IDs, burned his cash, and headed west in his aging Datsun for an intended spiritual journey. The Datsun didn’t make it very far. Rechristening himself as Alexander Supertramp, the boy hitchhiked across the country for the next two years, never contacting anyone from his old life again. An intellectual with a fondness for the writings of Thoreau, Tolstoy, and the adventure stories of Jack London, “Alex” had grown increasingly disillusioned with what he considered modern society’s materialistic and hypocritical values.

Heeding romantic notions of living a solitary existence communing with nature, he sought to flee from the poisons of civilization, retreating to the wilds of Alaska where he could enthusiastically test his mettle and push his body and mind to their limits. He eventually made it there in April of 1992 and lived for the next four months in an abandoned bus in the woods that had previously been used as a hunters’ shelter. He spent the time foraging for edible plants and small game, talking to himself a lot, and keeping a journal of his quest for enlightenment. His dead body was found by moose hunters in September of that year, emaciated to 67 pounds.

As depicted in the book and film, McCandless wasn’t an antisocial Unabomber hermit, but rather an idealistic, somewhat confused, and frankly naïve kid trying to find his place in life. During his cross-country trip, he spent a great deal of time in the company of people whose forthrightness or free-spirited natures he admired, including a pair of traveling hippies (played by Catherine Keener and Brian Dierker), a gregarious South Dakota wheat farmer (Vince Vaughn), and a lonely retiree (Hal Holbrook). Alex became part of each of their families, but in the end his mission pushed him away from them, driving him to spend the rest of his life alone.

Into the wild - Christopher McCandless
Into the wild – Christopher McCandless

Ever since Krakauer’s book was published, it’s been surrounded by accusations of needlessly romanticizing Christopher McCandless and the events leading to his death. Sean Penn’s adaptation will no doubt polarize some viewers as well. The author and director clearly believe McCandless to be a sympathetic character, worthy of an audience’s emotional involvement. On the other hand, many familiar with the story, especially those that understand a thing or two about wilderness survival, consider him just a stupid kid who threw his life away, essentially committing suicide through his own reckless ignorance. In truth, both points of view have their merits, and are not necessarily opposed to each other.

Like many his age, the boy’s youthful arrogance fostered a sense of invulnerability, strengthened further after surviving a dangerous kayaking adventure down the Colorado River despite having no experience. Bringing nothing but a bag of rice, a book on local plants, and a .22 caliber rifle, he was certain that he’d be able to sustain himself for an extended duration alone.

Into the wild & Chris Mccandless
Into the wild & Chris Mccandless

Obviously, he was wrong, and if he’d taken the time to properly prepare might have survived the ordeal. But it’s precisely these flaws in his character, and his inability to recognize them until it was too late to save himself, that makes his story a genuine tragedy. If McCandless had walked out of those woods alive, would there even be a story worth telling?

Setting aside his own public personality as a loud-mouth political activist, Penn has a highly regarded reputation as both an actor and a director, and treats the material with respect and sensitivity. He wisely underplays the potentially melodramatic aspects of the story and draws strong performances from his cast. Although backed by a stellar list of co-stars (Hal Holbrook scored an Oscar nomination for his role), the main burden of the movie falls on the shoulders of Emile Hirsch, the young actor from ‘The Girl Next Door’ and ‘Alpha Dog’, who spends much of his screen time completely alone on camera, doing a remarkable job of drawing the audience into the mind of the character.

Lovely photography and an understated musical score enhance the sense of atmosphere, as do an assortment of new songs by Eddie Vedder, whose grizzled ballads of alienation and rebellion are exactly the sort of thing that McCandless would have considered personal anthems. Penn has taken a fascinating story and crafted it into a beautiful tone poem, an elegy for lost innocence, and a heartbreaking motion picture.