In the mid 1990s when assisted living communities were first popping up and I was an activity director, I was told that coloring was not an activity for older adults. It was childish. Period. Well no more! 2015 was the year of the adult coloring book. You can’t walk into a bookstore or art store without running into a display of adult coloring books and accompanying supplies.
It may seem a bit awkward to color as an adult, but the simple benefits of focusing on one thing will help you tame that part of your brain that thrives on stress: the amygdala. When you worry about your mom’s last doctor visit or your dad’s ability to bathe himself, your amygdala revs up and encourages you to worry more. With an amygdala out of control, it is nearly impossible to make decisions that will benefit anyone.
You never know when you will need to turn off your panic response, so why not
carry around something to color. While waiting to board a flight, a fellow passenger told me about her tricks for surviving a transcontinental flight. She not only had a coloring book of the Amsterdam canals, but a full set of travel color pencils and a sharpener. She was prepared for travel stress—missed flights, long lines, bad food—because just like caregiving, there will be stress in travel.
A clinical psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic suggests that when we are focused on coloring, the distractions of our own lives evaporate into the background and allow us to be totally in the present. When we reduce mind clutter and distractions, we address caregiving challenges in a spirit of “let’s find a solution” vs. “nothing will help.”
I know how uncomfortable coloring may seem to many of you. It felt strange to me at first, too, but when I finally tried it some years ago, I found it to be both mesmerizing and rewarding. It’s a solo activity to help you find peace of mind and it can also be something you do with your loved ones. Sometimes simple conversation is stressfull. In those times, coloring separately can ease the stress, but still allow you to share time together doing the same activity.
Make it simple on yourself and start by downloading coloring samples. Open your mind and allow yourself to just color. See if by tuning into coloring, you are able to shut off your panic response. And remember, it’s not necessary to stay within the lines.