Coloring your way to better health, less stress

Tucked away in a Tampa children's boutique recently was an adult coloring class filled with women who were re-connecting to their imagination.

"I think I started coloring before I could talk," said Angela Sanchez, who runs a media business in Riverview. 

She was using a palate of colors that took her back to her home in Georgia. "I'm just thinking Fall colors in my mind."

Alison Taylor recently relocated to Tampa from the U.K.  Her image reminded her of elementary school.   "It's a castle on top of a mushroom. We used to play imagination games and we had our own little fantasy world." 

Katie Kyres began offering the class two months ago at her South MacDill Avenue store, Silly Dilly's, in the same room she rents out for children's birthday parties and etiquette classes.  It was a move that was surprising to her customers.

"They didn't know what it was," she recalled. "They did have that quizzical look: What? Is that for kids?" 

Kyres says the weekly gathering is drawing support.  

"It's meant to connect people, even strangers, and give them a beautiful place to just dream and be at ease," she smiled. 

Some believe that feeling of ease comes from the focus necessary to color intricate images while carefully choosing from an array of hues.

The focus is so powerful, art therapists have been offering coloring books to patients at the Moffitt Cancer Center for more than 15 years. 

"There's a lot of anecdotal evidence and people report that they find it very helpful, but it's not been examined in scientific studies," said Dr. Cindy Munro, the associate dean of research and innovation at the University of South Florida College of Nursing.

She said it's not yet known if coloring can also change the way the body responds to stress. 

"Focusing the attention on a very specific thing, like your breathing, does help to reduce physiologic response.  Their heart rates drop.  They become more calm and it really is a very effective therapy," she explained.  

Studies at USF and Moffitt Cancer Center are showing that Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) using breathing and meditation may go beyond simple relaxation. Their believe MBSR may work in part by decreasing inflammatory chemicals in the blood and boosting the immune system. 

Dr. Munro believes studies are needed to see if coloring can do the same thing. "If it's effective and it's pretty inexpensive, it would be a really wonderful therapy you could suggest to patients."

With or without the science, the women in this class said they like the way coloring makes them feel.

High school student Madilin Taylor was there with her mother Alison.  She had an essay looming, but she said coloring helps clear her mind.  "It's just really calming. It takes stress away from school."
"I just feel like a kid again," Alison Taylor added. "It is really nice. Just focusing on this and just shutting everything else out for a little while feels lovely."

DO try it at home, too. Here are some links to some printable grown-up coloring pages: