While the adult coloring book trend is argued as completely dead or on the decline, a couple years ago they were all the rage. I’m not one to jump on the bandwagon when a new trend pops up, but this time I caved in. I have social anxiety, and I’m always looking for ways to slow down my mind and calm myself down. I also love creating art, so I was down with the idea of coloring books for adults.
I bought a coloring book on Japanese designs and a pack of Crayola pencils. I picked a page, chose a couple pencils, and started coloring. Okay, cool.
I wasn’t enjoying it.
In fact, I was only getting more anxious.
What the heck?
I took a mental step back. Something was off. Was I trying too hard? I love creating art, so why was I feeling put off?
I resumed coloring, but I gave up a few minutes later. I’ve done some coloring since then, but not as much as I’d anticipated. Looking back on my mental process while I was coloring, I discovered these 5 things:
1. It was the end of the world when I colored outside the lines.
Your hand is sweating and you lose your grip. You don’t put enough pressure on the paper. You get distracted by your cat and lose focus.
It’s gonna happen — you’re gonna color outside the lines.
No big deal for some people. For me, it’s the end of the world, the “I deviated from an established blueprint and I’m going to hell for it” kinda thing. I know it’s dramatic, but anxiety does that. It takes something trivial and blows it out of proportion. If I focused solely on not coloring outside the lines, I lost out on the joy of coloring. There’s no in-between with anxiety.
2. I kept thinking I wasted money.
I’m a 20-something millennial working on becoming a full-time freelance writer. I’m not exactly swimming in cash. When I bought the coloring books, I vowed I would get my money’s worth out of them. I knew I wouldn’t like all the designs, but I didn’t expect to be that picky. When I couldn’t settle on a design I’d give up and stress about giving up. I pictured cartoon hands ripping apart dollar bills above my head.
3. It felt weird setting time aside for myself.
My days are spent in two extremes — I’m productive and focused, or I’m derailed by a bad depressive episode and do the bare minimum to get by. I’m working on improving my work/life balance, but it’s still a struggle to establish a routine that works for me. Even on my productive days when I know I deserve some time to indulge in fun activities, I still feel guilty for doing so. The weight of time and “adulting” keep distracting me. My anxiety said, You’ve got more important things to do than color. You should be working, not goofing off! I can never color for more than ten minutes.
4. I got frustrated and sad when I made a mistake.
As an anxious person, I have perfectionist tendencies. The more mistakes I make, the more anxious I become. I know mistakes are part of life, but my anxiety disorder blinds me from that truth. When I was coloring I beat myself up for using the wrong color or shading technique. Why didn’t I use green instead? I’m using blue way too much, I should choose another color. Damn, I did not blend those colors well. Why am I even bothering?
5. I couldn’t enjoy the finished product.
I have finished a few coloring pages, but I don’t have pride in them. Sure, I succeeded in completing something, but was I proud? No. I wasn’t happy because the journey to the finished product wasn’t happy. It was tinged with negative emotions and thoughts. The positivity was absent. Yet I couldn’t bring myself to throw the finished pages away. I stuck them in a drawer and rarely look at them.
I really do want to find a positive rhythm to coloring. I just have to break the mental habits preventing me from fully enjoying this activity.
I figured I was in the minority here. I conducted a poll on my Twitter and Instagram asking people if coloring helped with their anxiety and stress. Granted, less than 10 people voted (I’m still new to the scene) but the majority responded with YES, with only one vote for NO. Obviously, with such a small sample I can’t come to any serious conclusion, but I suspect my reaction to coloring isn’t common.
So what can I do to change my NO to a YES?
Forgive myself for coloring outside the lines. Finish the coloring books I have before buying more. Feel more at ease in making time for myself. Accept the mistakes and strive to do better. Pick out what I like best about the finished product and focus on that.
All easier said than done, but it’s a challenge I’ll gladly take on.