The Art and Science of Thought: How Colouring and Doodling Strengthen Mental Health

Colouring and doodling, activities often thought of as mere childhood pastimes or sedentary habits, have recently been recognized by neuroscience for their profound impact on mental health. These practices, simple as they may seem, offer potent tools for stress relief, anxiety reduction, and enhancing cognitive function and creative thought.

Colouring: A Pathway to Calm

Colouring, an activity synonymous with childhood, has been found to have far-reaching benefits that extend well into adulthood. A study by van der Vennet and Serice, published in the Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, found that colouring mandalas, intricate circular designs rich in symbolism, significantly reduced adult anxiety levels.

Colouring requires a focus that engages both the creative and logical aspects of the brain, stimulating a state of calm and relaxation. The rhythmic, repetitive nature of colouring, where the focus is on the process rather than the outcome, mirrors that of meditation. This focus helps quiet the mind, reducing intrusive thoughts and anxiety. It is a form of active relaxation where the individual is fully engaged in a simple, non-stressful task, allowing for a release from the pressures and worries of daily life.

Doodling: Unleashing Cognitive Potential

Doodling, often dismissed as a mindless activity or a sign of inattentiveness, has been found to have surprising cognitive benefits. In a study published in Applied Cognitive Psychology, researcher Jackie Andrade discovered that doodling aided memory recall. Participants who doodled while listening to a monotonous phone call could remember 29% more information than those who did not doodle.

Unlike colouring, doodling is often spontaneous, without a specific end goal. This free-form drawing style allows the mind to roam, enhancing creative thought and problem-solving skills. Doodling stimulates the brain’s reward pathways, increasing the production of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and motivation. This neurological reward makes doodling enjoyable and can help regulate mood and contribute to overall mental well-being.

Practical Applications: Coloring and Doodling in Adult Life

While colouring books for children and sketchpads may be the first things that come to mind when thinking about colouring and doodling, plenty of activities suitable for adults offer the same benefits.

Consider attending a mandala colouring workshop, for instance. These sessions provide the therapeutic benefits of colouring and the opportunity for social interaction, creating a sense of community and shared experience. Digital colouring apps are another option, offering a vast array of designs. These apps allow for colouring on the go, providing a handy stress relief tool at your fingertips.

As for doodling, try incorporating this simple practice into your daily routine. Doodle during meetings, phone calls, or while waiting for appointments. Turn these idle moments into opportunities for cognitive enhancement and creative exploration. Even a few minutes of doodling can help to focus the mind, enhance memory recall, and stimulate creative thought.

Embracing the Power of Artistic Expression

Colouring and doodling are far more than child’s play or idle pastimes. Neuroscience has shown us that these activities offer powerful tools for enhancing mental health, promoting relaxation, and boosting cognitive function. Their accessibility and ease make them a practical addition to any adult’s toolkit for mental well-being.

Whether focusing on the intricate patterns of a mandala colouring page or letting your pen freely move across a page in a doodling session, these activities stimulate our brains in unique and beneficial ways. By engaging in these practices, we are fostering our creativity and promoting our mental health and well-being.

As adults, we often find ourselves caught up in the hustle and bustle of life, with little time for relaxation or creative pursuits. However, the science-backed benefits of colouring and doodling underscore the importance of taking time for these activities. They offer a simple, accessible, and effective way to reduce stress, enhance memory, and boost creativity.

In conclusion, don’t underestimate the power of a colouring book or a simple doodle. Neuroscience tells us that these activities are much more than just ways to pass the time; they are critical tools in maintaining and promoting mental health. So, pick up a colouring book or start a doodle in your notebook. You might find it’s the key to reducing stress levels, boosting your memory, and unlocking your creative potential.


  1. van der Vennet, R., & Serice, S. (2012). Can Coloring Mandalas Reduce Anxiety? A Replication Study. Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, 29(2), 87-92.
  2. Andrade, J. (2009). What does doodling do? Applied Cognitive Psychology. doi: 10.1002/acp.1561.

Ready to Make Change Happen?

Discover Life-Changing Opportunities!

Approved Mental Health Provider

Approved Mental Health Provider