Recall a time that was mildly frightening to you. How did you try to overcome that event in your life? Did you take a long walk? Confide in a friend? Seek professional treatment? Or try to shut the memory down completely?
There are millions of people who suffer from intense life-altering events who turn to forms of therapy to help them cope with the symptoms and side effects that come along immediately or months after the event took place. Therapy could range from anything like prescription medication to coloring.
What Is PTSD?
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric disorder triggered by a life altering (or series of life alternating) or terrifying experience(s). Many people associate PTSD with those who have served in the military since we understand that their experiences at war are often fairly traumatic. However, more than just veterans are affected with over 5 million U.S. adults suffering from PTSD in a given year.
PTSD can be triggered by any life-threatening experience, such as natural disasters, sexual assault, physical abuse, illness, acts of terrorism, car accidents, and as I mentioned above, military experience. PTSD causes those who suffer from it to have flashbacks, panic attacks, or even nightmares from their frightening experience(s). These frequent flashbacks can affect a person’s sleeping habits, social activities, interaction in society, as well as daily tasks they may come across, including their occupation and relationships.
The re-experiencing and flashbacks of their trauma, causes intense emotions and physical reactions of hopelessness, fear, anxiety, depression, and panic, just as they experienced the first time the event was taking place. This negativity affects their physical and psychological well-being and health.
When a person suffers from PTSD, it often is coupled with depression, substance abuse, and memory and cognition problems. Many people with PTSD often try to avoid thinking or talking about their traumatic event, so as to not trigger the flashbacks. People also will avoid being put in similar situations or even potentially risky situations, for fear of triggering traumatic flashbacks.
There are ways people diagnosed with PTSD can receive treatment, in the forms of antidepressants, psychotherapy, and other medications. One lesser known treatment for helping those who suffer from PTSD is by using art therapy.
What is Art Therapy?
Art therapy is a form of psychotherapy which involves the use of self-expression as a remedial activity or an aid to a diagnosis. The creative form of self-expression could be through painting, drawing, writing, coloring, dancing, sculpting, modeling, playing instruments, singing, or any other creative form of expression.
Art therapy can act as a form of treatment or an aspect of treatment, and for patients serves as a safe space. There are countless studies that have been conducted on the practice and benefits of art therapy.
Overall, the attempt of art therapy is to reconcile emotional conflicts, reduce anxiety, increase self-esteem, help manage behavior and addictions and encourage patients to explore their feelings. It is often practiced in hospitals, psychiatric facilities, rehabilitation facilities, schools, crisis centers, senior communities, as well as other clinical and community settings.
How Can Coloring Help People With PTSD?
Now that we know that art therapy can help people who are diagnosed and suffering from mental health conditions, which includes PTSD, we are going to dive into how the art form of coloring can specifically help.
It might sound strange that coloring can actually help those who have PTSD cope with their experiences and symptoms. However, coloring has many therapeutic health benefits, including:
- Increases concentration and focus
- Serves as a distraction from other thoughts (in this case traumatic flashbacks)
- Allows for creative expression
- Helps with problem-solving and organizational skills
- Brings you back to a childlike state of mind
- Allows you to be in the present moment
- Relieves anxiety and depression
- Acts as a form of meditation
- Improves sleep
- Decreases stress
- Stimulates the mind
- Creates positive thoughts
- Serves as a harmless or low-risk activity
Coloring mandalas, or other geometric patterns, specifically have many positive therapeutic benefits for PTSD sufferers. Studies have been conducted on how coloring mandalas or other geometric patterns have proved to aid in therapy. However, coloring most images and designs will help people relax and relieve their anxiety.
Coloring gives some people the courage to overcome their diagnosis and symptoms since it provides them with a positive and judgement-free outlet. Since they are making something meaningful they can see their work becoming an art, which is a truly rewarding experience.
The Science Behind It
There are research and studies that have been conducted diving into why coloring specifically is a positive treatment for PTSD.
Coloring calms the amygdala, which is responsible for our flight or fight responses in our mind. People suffering from PTSD are in a heightened state of mind from their worrying, stress, anxiety, and panic due to those traumatic flashbacks. Coloring can help turn that flight or fight response down, which allows the mind to relax.
Coloring also activates both parts of the cerebral hemispheres, since it involves both logic and creativity. For example, you pick a color you want to color with, this is logic, and then you use that color to shade in an aspect of the design, this is creativity.
Traumatic flashbacks disrupt our body and mind. Coloring, a repetitive act helps re-establish a steady rhythm and flow while changing the neurological response. And since coloring elicits a calming effect, it acts as a form of meditation to relieve the symptoms and stresses that come along with PTSD.
Since PTSD evokes strong images, like those flashbacks and nightmares we talked about earlier, it makes sense that the healing process is to use imagery as well. The art therapist might encourage the patient to draw a self-reflection of themselves and their experiences, which can aid in the diagnosis and recovery process. Also, oftentimes people who suffer from PTSD have difficulty discussing their experiences, so bringing in drawing and coloring into the process provides an outlet for them to share without necessarily saying anything at all.
Coloring alone may not be the cure-all for the symptoms of PTSD, but coloring coupled with other forms of treatment have proven to help the healing and the recovery process.
Although coloring can be used as an alternative to other forms of medication and treatment, you should always consult with your doctor or psychiatrist before using coloring solely as your form of PTSD treatment. Since the therapeutic effects of coloring differ depending on the person and severity of issues.
Are you someone who suffers from PTSD and has used coloring to help you cope? Share your experience with us – we would love to hear your story.
Also, if you know anyone who can benefit from the powerful benefits of coloring, please let them know to check out Coloring.Club and ColorIt.Com to get all of their supplies and inspiration for using coloring as a coping mechanism.