If you don’t have small kids, coloring books are one household item that probably aren’t in your inventory. But according to a Quartz article, that is changing for an increasing number of Americans, as purchases for adult coloring books have skyrocketed from 1 million to 12 million in the past year. Why are grown-ups coloring between the lines? The answer appears to be stress.
Americans have good reason to be stressed out. Mass shootings, foreign policy standoffs, and contentious presidential election add to the perennial woes of income pressure. It also probably doesn’t help that we’ve been spending an increasing amount of time on social media and in front of screens. And it appears this mounting stress has created an opportunity for the benefits of coloring. This boom can be attributed in part to illustrator Johanna Basford, who could be described as the J.K. Rowling of adult coloring books. Her 2013 debut book, Secret Garden, is a bestseller on Amazon. In fact, three of the 10 bestselling books on Amazon last year were adult coloring books. But what exactly is this activity offering that we can’t get from posting dog pictures on Instagram, or binge-watching an entire season of Better Call Saul?
Extremely intricate and ornate, adult coloring books require long periods of detail-oriented work. There’s a blend of creative expression and structure that is engrossing, according to New York-based art therapist Nadia Jenefsky. “People with a lot of anxiety respond really well to coloring books,” Jenefsky says. “There are some choices involved—in terms of choosing what colors you’re going to use and how you’re blending your colors—but there’s also a lot of structure.”
Coloring means you’re also offline, which might just be a natural course correction, as Americans could be realizing that hours spent carefully curating their social media footprints might not actually make them feel better about real life. Instead, coloring provides some mindful solitude, free from distractions and judgment. As stressed out Bostonian and coloring-book enthusiast Samanthu Wuu told Quartz, “You can’t do it wrong—and even when you do, you’re like, ‘Whatever, I have another shot.’”
Of course, pop-culture obsessives might not be ready to ratchet back their Netflix queue and give up the remote for some fancy gel pens. For those folks hesitant to choose between their coloring books and their Cumberbatches, we’re happy to report that you don’t have to.