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A migraine-friendly hobby

My husband is a bargain hunter, especially when it comes to crafting supplies. His volunteer activities with Boy Scouts has given him a lot of opportunities to explore Native American hand crafts such a loom beading and hand-crafting fancy dance attire. Most of the time he shops the specialty catalog suppliers. Occasionally he does find bargains at hobby stores, too. Quite a while ago he signed up for the Michael’s email list. Although he complains that they are over-priced, he still begs me to go shopping with him at least once a month when he has a 50% off coupon.

We have an unspoken understanding about these shopping trips. I help him find whatever he is looking for. Then I help myself to whatever treasures I find. Most of the time it’s more paper, embellishments, stickers, or sometimes a new scrapbook album. During our last visit, I discovered a new reason to tag along.

Coloring Books

These are not your run-of-the-mill cartoon character coloring books. They are made for adults. The books are thick and each page is an intricate design. Books are themed, too. You can even download and print coloring pages online for free. That’s what I’ve been doing for months, mostly because I have been too sick to go shopping.

During that last shopping trip, I was headed for the checkout counter with a box of acrylic paint when an end cap display caught my eye. There among the bargain coloring books was a lone copy of Johanna Basford’s The Secret Garden. I snatched it up, not caring what the price might be, and got in line. When it was my turn, I sat the items on the counter with one of my husband’s 50% off coupons.

“That coupon can’t be used for coloring books, ma’am,” the cashier explain.

That didn’t surprise me. Michael’s never has coupons for the really good stuff. “The coupon is for the paint. I want the book no matter what”, I assured her. I’ve never spent $15 on a coloring book before and likely won’t again. Yet in that moment, it felt right. It still does.

It’s good self-care.

It’s a growing trend to color as a means of relaxation and mindfulness. Some people even claim that it is a form of art therapy, yet many prominent art therapists are dismissing the idea. So I decided to reach out to a former colleague who is a Registered Art Therapist. She couldn’t point me to any research on the subject because it’s really too new. However, she did say that she recommends coloring and finds it a useful stress management tool. Her opinion supports many others I have received over the years.

My first experience with coloring as an adult starting during my first job after earning my Bachelor’s degree. I worked as a Shelter Advocate for a local domestic violence shelter. During a staff in-service, the guest speaker shared a lot of creative ways to manage stress. After all, it wasn’t exactly a stress-free work environment! I remembered how much I loved to color as a child. With a little encouragement, I embraced my inner child and went shopping for crayons and coloring books.

Getting lost in the moment

The first thing I discovered was that the sensations of coloring brought back pleasant childhood memories of bonding with favorite aunts and my grandmother. It was a full sensory experience. The smell of colored wax, the texture of the pages, even the sound a crayon makes when it breaks – all of it evoked a sense of wonder. Time stood still when I colored a page. It was a beautiful, nourishing way to let go of all the hassles of life.

Building a legacy

It also motivated me to ensure that my daughter would have opportunities for creative expression. A few years later we bonded over crayons, too. 22 years later, she is now an artist and hairstylist with a specialty in corrective color. She grew up with art as a stress management tool and I hope she never loses it. It won’t be much longer before my granddaughter will be ready for coloring time. Spending a lazy afternoon creating beautiful art with her is a pleasure I look forward to.

A mindfulness tool

Have you ever watched a child who is coloring? Typically they get lost in the moment. The child might hum or whistle a tune, swing their feet, or talk to themselves. They choose their colors carefully. Nothing else matters except creating their masterpiece. Have you ever tried to interrupt a coloring child? Instinctively they protect that time. Coloring time has a sacred quality. It’s a beautiful way to shut out the world.

I can get lost in the intricate details of adult coloring pages and forget all my troubles. It’s a great way to get that much-needed break from the daily hassles of life. Whenever I find myself worrying about things I can’t control or I struggle to stay focused, I take some time to pull out my colored pencils, markers, or crayons and get lost in the world of coloring.

Migraine robs us of so many pleasures. Coloring is one hobby that won’t set off a raging attack. It’s not like sewing, where I risk the very real possibility of several unfinished projects. There are no loud noises, strong smells, bright lights, or forbidden foods. I can start and stop whenever my brain allows. There is no deadline, no goal, and nobody checking to see if I finished. I can enjoy coloring alone or in the presence of loved ones. It’s even better when they join in the fun.

Have you tried coloring?

How did affect your ability to cope with stress?

Is it something you would do again?

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • aellath
    4 years ago

    i knit or crochet. i’ve taught myself to knit w/o looking at my hands, so when i can’t open my eyes i can still knit (still working on crochet w/o eyes!). Audiobooks help, especially the ones i know; i can concentrate on visualising them. The yarn shop i work at has a couple colouring book in, and they look wonderful; the UCSD bookshop has lots of them. gonna have to try some again . . . used to colour in the Dover line-art books.

  • GinaD
    4 years ago

    I started coloring again earlier this year and I absolutely love it. I use soft, colored pencils (as opposed to markers, which can have a strong smell) and stay away from the really intricate, busy patterns that strain my eyes and make my head feel worse. The colors make me happy, and I become absorbed in the activity — not in the pain.

    4 years ago

    I paint. I found that I can paint for hours without getting a migraine. And when my neurologist urged me to seek out non-traditional remedies for migraines and I found myself hooked up to dozens of electrodes weekly for months in neurofeedback sessions, I learned that I was probably accessing the brainwave frequency little used when I painted, but very important to strengthen.
    The more you “go there” to strengthen this area in your brain, more good things will happen.. For us, it may bring on less frequent migraines.. In the meantime while you’re there, enjoy and keep coloring.

  • labwhisperer
    4 years ago

    I started about a year ago. I find it so much easier on my eyes and migraines. It has drastically cut down on my computer, tv use. I think it has helped since I am not staring at a backlit screen. Coloring also lets my mind wander and take a break. I color daily.

  • solove0611
    4 years ago

    I used to suffer terribly with depression ocd and ADHD. All of my symptoms are under control now-except migraines. When I was so sick before I colored mandalas A LOT. It was just enough to new me from over thinking but not too much that it overwhelmed me. I haven’t colored in recent years, migraines make me terribly photophobic but on my good days I shall find my old books and colored pencils 🙂 thanks for another awesome article, Tammy!

  • tracey
    4 years ago

    Yes, it helps a lot, if I can get everyone to leave me alone.

  • Still Smiling
    4 years ago

    I love colouring – its not as intense as having the TV on and is a really nice way to relax and get creative. I find that I can’t do the more intricate designs during an attack as it makes my head hurt and if I have dizziness with the migraine then I wont colour because I don’t want to ruin my picture/books.

  • Nancy Harris Bonk moderator
    4 years ago

    Hi Tammy,

    Yes – I am coloring and loving it. I find it very relaxing and entertaining at the same time. I can’t do it during an attack, but coloring does help me with the end of the day stress.


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