When De-Stressing Is Stressful

It seems like this summer and fall have been exceptionally crazy in our household this year. With absurd schedules, sickness, and the over-commitment of my time especially, I feel like I haven’t slept since June. My efforts to “get away” include me packing up my laptop and heading to my favorite coffee house so I can get some work done without my children showing me exactly how necessary I am in their lives. (Little Miss asking, “Mama, have you seen my wand?” or being the big leg Little Man can wrap his arms around to wipe his nose on.)

If my “getting away” time involves me working, I feel like I’m doing it wrong. That’s another post for another day.


For my birthday, my husband took me out to a lovely dinner and our standard date-closing activity: browsing Barnes & Noble. Immediately upon walking in, we were met by a display of adult coloring books. Browsing through the pages of each one, Brent and I both commented on what we liked and didn’t. He liked the cityscapes. I liked the flowy-hippie-flower books.

A couple of weeks later, an Amazon order arrived with a cityscapes coloring book for him, a flowy-hippie-flower book for me, and a box of a bajillion colored pencils.

Brent took the dive into adult coloring first. I feel like I need to unpack the phrase “adult coloring”. On its own, that word-pairing sounds a little risque. When you look at a kid’s coloring book, there are wide spaces, limited details, and princesses. Mostly princesses.

Coloring books made for adults are chock-full of lines, shapes, nooks, crannies, and an over-abundance of places to put pencil to paper. And apparently you have to use coloring pencils, because nothing else will get into some of the detail-laced image spaces. It’s “adult coloring” because it’s intricate, strategic, and frankly: stressful.

This is what adults do. We take something simple, careless, and fun, and we turn it into something “more fun” by making it complicated, laden with decision-making, and opportunistic in showcasing our artistic shortcomings.

So many decisions! What color scheme was I going to utilize? How many layers of color was I going to incorporate? Were the leaves all going to be one color or different colors?

I embraced my artistic freedom and just went for it, making decisions on the fly. This was a bad idea.

After 15 minutes of coloring, my husband had one square inch of his coloring page filled in. One. Inch. In kid-coloring, 15 minutes gives you eight completed pages. Instant gratification is nonexistent in adult coloring.

After 15 minutes of my own coloring, I was completely dissatisfied with the coloring choices I had made. And my wrist hurt. Quite a lot. I put the pencils away and decided I would finish it another day.

The very next day, I went back at to my coloring book with newfound enthusiasm. I was going to color like no one had colored before. I opened the page, and couldn’t remember at all which exact coloring pencils I had employed the previous night. Which colors was I using? Some had shades that were so very close to one another….what if I picked the wrong one to use now?

I decided since I already didn’t like how the picture was turning out, I would use it to practice technique rather than to display on our refrigerator. And my wrist hurt. Coloring and carpal tunnel aren’t friends.

I finished the picture and instead of feeling relief or relaxation, I felt disgust. It looked horrible, the colors were a disaster, and obviously I had no idea how this adult coloring thing was supposed to work.

I couldn’t grasp the art of coloring. C o l o r i n g. What kind of messed up life am I living where the act of coloring sends me into stress mode?

I would not be defeated. I turned the page, developed a strategy, and started again.

I decided I was going to pick one color, and just color all the things in the picture I wanted to be that one color. Then I wouldn’t have to remember which shade of which pencil color family I was using if I had to step away. Then I moved on to the next color. And the next.

It took me four years. Not really, but it took a long time. By the end of it, my wrist was numb, my fingers were cramped, and my lips were dry for how often I stuck my tongue out in concentration. My shoulders were up by my forehead, and I developed a sizeable hunch in my spine. But my picture was done. And pretty.

And I haven’t touched the book since. Figure I’ll quit while I’m ahead. Actually I’ve been so busy, I haven’t had time to color again. Yet.

But I still stand by the fact that adult coloring is more stress-inducing than stress-relieving. There is a picture of a leaf – a single leaf – in my coloring book. My first thought was, “I would just color this all one color.” But no. They put lines and stripes and holes and shapes in the leaf so you pull your hair out trying to decide how you’re going to shade and create depth as you interpret the mosaic of nature depicted in four-million slots carved into a single leaf. Keep that pencil sharpener handy.

-2nd the best-

The best part is, the coloring pages are perforated so you can tear them out of your coloring book and throw them away to pretend like you never screwed up display it proudly in your cubicle or on your fridge for all the world to marvel at.

If you’ll excuse me, I need to schedule an hour-long massage to work out the knots from my hour-long de-stressing coloring activity…