Many of us can travel back to our childhood and recollect gathering our crayons and harnessing their power to create fantastic works of art on paper, placemats, chairs, or walls. Coloring not only fostered our imagination, but helped us develop our skills in following directions, self-soothing, and expressing our feelings. Recent studies propose that the crayons we put away in our youth, in an effort to be perceived as “grown up,” may in fact help us as adults as a form of relaxation. Interestingly, as children and adolescents, we tend to let go of the very things that could have kept us calm and soothed us as we aged rather than forgetting how to relax and getting caught up in the whirlwind of life.

Recent studies, articles, and television segments piqued my interest on coloring as a relaxation tool. As part of CancerCare’s goal to develop effective programs targeted to people with cancer and their loved ones, I saw the activity as an opportunity to create an innovative group program to reduce stress and enhance coping skills for our clients.

Nancy A. Curry, BA, and Tim Kasser, PhD, in their article “Can Coloring Mandalas Reduce Anxiety?” detailed their fascinating study in which 84 undergraduate students were randomly assigned to 1 of 3 group coloring projects.1 The projects were a mandala, a geometric pattern, or freeform coloring on a blank piece of paper.1 Results indicated a greater reduction in anxiety in those who colored geometric patterns or mandalas. Those who colored free form had no significant reduction in anxiety. The authors hypothesized that coloring a pattern takes a certain amount of focus and thought. That focus and thought, which is not used in free-pattern coloring, allows the artist to get caught up in the creation, and in some respect, remove them from life’s general anxiety.1

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Aided by my supervisor, a strong proponent of a varied group curriculum, CancerCare launched its Meditative Mandala support group as weekly 90-minute sessions in a 4-week trial. Although the title included mandalas, group members were given the option of coloring a mandala or a pattern. Group time included a 15-minute tutorial of a positive psychology technique members might employ in their lives.

Setting the stage for relaxation included playing background music, such as music from The Cistercian Monks of Stift Heiligenkreuz or classical genres. Members stated the contemplative music enhanced the group experience, as they tapped into their inner artist and began to awaken the right side of their brain.