As the summer of 2020 came to an end, and my first year in grad school was beginning, I knew this year, self-care had to be especially prioritized given the pandemic and the transition to online learning. Self-care is something I had been introduced to quite late. Growing up in an ethnically Afghan home, mental health was not quite culturally understood or encouraged to be discussed. Resultingly, I often turned to private methods such as journaling to cope with my emotions. Although today I am more open with my mental health, I still find journaling to be a very therapeutic tool.
This September, I resorted to online shopping to purchase my annual journal as a safer alternative to going in-person to shops. Upon finding a dark blue-colored minimalistic journal on Amazon, an interesting recommendation for an art therapy product popped up: A Mandala Coloring Book for Stress Relief. I gave art therapy a chance during the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, when Bob Ross YouTube painting videos were rising in popularity (Click here to check them out) . I instantly loved these, as they were a great creative outlet during these uncertain and stressful times. Upon my painting sessions, a sense of calmness would be induced throughout my body and my mind would switch to a meditative state. Remembering how therapeutic I found art to be in the beginning of the pandemic, I decided to add the mandala coloring book to my purchases.
Upon receiving my coloring book – I was hooked. Throughout my first semester at grad school, I found myself carefully coloring in beautiful geometric shapes when I was feeling stressed, or even when I was already in a relaxed state. Something about coloring mandalas brought me a sense of peace.
As a student researcher who is taught to think critically about everything – I hopped over to PubMed and checked out the research behind the effectiveness of mandala coloring books. I wasn’t too surprised when I came across various studies highlighting the destressing properties of coloring geometric shapes such like mandalas  - . For instance, a study in the United States which recruited 84 university students to undergo an anxiety-inducing task, then undergo coloring therapy found that individuals who colored mandalas experienced a statistically significant reduction in anxiety levels .
As part of Project Bloom which is proudly supported by #RisingYouth, and AYEDI, I want to give youth a chance to try out art therapy for themselves. In 2021, our youth will receive a mandala coloring book as a stress relieving tool. We aim for these coloring books to be a stepping stone for youth to explore mental wellness and self-care – it is important to remember that different things work for different people. Giving Afghan youth the tools to explore what mental health is, and what coping methods work for them early in life is essential to mental wellbeing.
If you have made it this far reading, and are currently struggling with mental health, I just want to end this blog post off with a reminder: your emotions and experiences are all valid, despite what anyone may tell you or how anyone may make you feel. Asking for help is a sign of strength.
We hope that Project Bloom enables youth to reflect on their mental wellbeing and explore new outlets for stress and anxiety. Keep your eyes peeled for upcoming mental health resources and our mental health seminar in 2021.
1. Curry, N. A. & Kasser, T. Can coloring mandalas reduce anxiety? Art Ther. (2005) doi:10.1080/07421656.2005.10129441.
2. Koo, M., Chen, H. P. & Yeh, Y. C. Coloring Activities for Anxiety Reduction and Mood Improvement in Taiwanese Community-Dwelling Older Adults: A Randomized Controlled Study. Evidence-based Complement. Altern. Med. (2020) doi:10.1155/2020/6964737.
3. Mantzios, M. & Giannou, K. When did coloring books become mindful? Exploring the effectiveness of a novel method of mindfulness-guided instructions for coloring books to increase mindfulness and decrease anxiety. Front. Psychol. (2018) doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00056.