Can You Color Away Pain?

By Pat Anson, Editor

You might call Mary Hayes a pioneer in adult coloring. Millions of people like her have discovered that coloring a complex floral or geometric design is a great stress reliever.

But Hayes also colors to relieve her pain.

“I can't do a lot of activities, so I wanted something to do that would keep my mind active,” says Hayes, who has suffered most of her life from fibromyalgia, migraines, fatigue and other chronic illnesses.

“I played video games and worked puzzles, but I got tired of that.  I realized I was losing part of my physical self when my mind was engaged. So I started coloring.”

Hayes says she got strange looks when she first started asking for adult coloring books in book stores. That was before the “coloring craze” took off – first in Europe and then the United States.

Today, many craft, hobby and book stores keep a wide selection of adult coloring books. One colorist has sold more than 20 million of her books worldwide.

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“I think of coloring as my therapy.  I've been able to express the way my pain makes me feel inside in a way that I cannot express in words,” says Hayes. “It not only engages the mind, it engages the body by adding some movement that could be compared to a yoga-like experience.

“When I'm sitting there and coloring, I'm thinking about what colors I want to use and what medium I want to use.  Time moves past so quickly.  I look up at the time and realize I haven't taken a pain pill in hours and that is an amazing feeling.  I think in a way it ties the brain up so tightly, it stops all those pain signals from breaking through.” 

Coloring not only provides pain relief, it’s turned Hayes into artist. Beautiful and complex designs – like the one she colored below – can often take days to complete.

Hayes started connecting with other colorists on Facebook, which is where Jack Plaxe discovered her. Plaxe retired from the world of finance several years ago, formed a company called Color 4 Fun, and started publishing adult coloring books as an avocation.  

“I’m having a good time working with artists around the world creating these books,” Plaxe told PNN. “I don’t have pain, but I color and it’s very, very relaxing. It’s stress relieving.”

Plaxe noticed that many of the colorists he met online suffer from chronic pain, which gave him the idea of publishing his latest book, Color Away the Pain. It features the artistry and personal stories of Hayes and four other colorists who suffer from chronic pain and illness.

“Many of them use coloring as a form of therapy for distraction from their pain. So I’m well aware of the benefit of coloring for people who are pain sufferers,” says Plaxe.

“We color our soul onto those pages.  We can run and be active in colors.  We can express our spirit and self with our personal style.  We are defined by our coloring style and not our disability,” says Hayes. 

“It feels so good to have someone tell someone about my artistry and not my disability.  I can show my work and not have to talk about my latest treatment.  Those things don't disappear, but they are not what defines me anymore.  I found out I have a real talent that I never knew existed.”

To see more of that talent and those of other artists, click here, here or here.

To find the hidden artist in yourself, you can buy a copy of Color Away the Pain from Amazon for $7.95. All royalties from sales of the book will go to the Chronic Pain Research Alliance.

Plaxe also has a Facebook page that offers free advice and instructional videos for beginners.

Color Away the Pain is featured along with several other pain-related books in PNN’s new “Suggested Reading” section.