Heard about the new relaxation trend? You don’t need a yoga mat or soothing scents or a Tibetan drum. You just need a box of Crayolas or colored pencils and a coloring book for grown-ups.

That’s right. It’s good-bye SpongeBob…hello Secret Garden and Enchanted Forest. These beautifully detailed black-and-white drawings of plants, flowers, trees, animals and birds by UK illustrator Johanna Basford are topping best-seller lists.

It’s a full-blown trend. There’s Adult Coloring Book: Stress Relieving Patterns, Color Me Calm: 100 Coloring Templates for Meditation and Relaxation and The Mindfulness Colouring Book: Anti-Stress Art Therapy for Busy People. You can find adult coloring book series from the publishers Creative Haven and Skyhorse Publishing. Even Marvel, the comic book and movie giant, is getting into the act, with plans to release an Age of Ultron coloring book (based on the company’s blockbuster Avengers series) for adults next October, followed by Little Marvel by Skottie Young Coloring Book (featuring line art of award-winning illustrator and cartoonist Skottie Young’s comic book covers and interior pages) and Civil War Coloring Book (with iconic superheroes Captain American and Iron Man) in early 2016. What should we make of this newest publishing phenomenon? Is coloring for grown-ups an affordable, effective therapeutic pastime that reduces health-sapping stress? A cool new way to release your inner child? Or just a fad with no real health benefits?


Let’s cut to the chase. While no health studies have specifically examined coloring books for adults, the approach makes sense to clinical psychologist Allen Elkin, PhD, director of the Stress Management and Counseling Center in New York City and author of Stress Management for Dummies.

Coloring combines creative and aesthetic elements with fine motor skills, and that engages different parts of your brain in ways that can be relaxing and satisfying and can enhance your attention, says Dr. Elkin. Just as with knitting, coloring “can be distracting in a way that gets you away from your worries and neurotic thinking—and that can be very therapeutic,” he says. Like meditation, coloring is a mindful activity that can help you focus, he adds. “It distracts you, but just enough.”

Having a creative hobby like coloring might even enhance your performance at work. In a pair of studies published in Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, researchers from San Francisco State University examined the relationships between nonwork creative activities (such as doing art or crafts, writing poetry, playing music and the like) and performance-related behaviors at work. They found that people who engaged in creative activities outside work gained a sense of mastery and control and experienced relaxation, which helped relieve their stress. What’s more, their colleagues reported that people with these hobbies showed more creativity and more of a team spirit at work.

So go ahead—release your inner artist. Stay in the lines…or be a rebel and color outside them. These are not your elementary school coloring books—they can get pretty intricate and engrossing. Plus, when the crayons or colored pencils are put away, you might even have something worthy of your refrigerator door.

Click on images below for printable versions that you can color yourself.