Kids’ activity relieves adult stress

Everyone has a different recipe for relaxation. For some, it’s a glass of merlot, a rosemary-mint bubble bath and Frank Sinatra crooning ballads in the background.

For others it’s a bag of salt-and-vinegar potato chips, a scruffy lapdog on the couch and a marathon of old John Wayne westerns.

For Brittany Love, it’s four scampering tabby kittens, a tiny red cup holding a splash of espresso, and a coloring book of puppies with eyes so large and adorable they’d soften even the callused hearts of a chain gang.

While most adults will tell you they’ve left their crayons with their childhoods, Love, a divorce and criminal lawyer in Concord, has carried on the pastime. She says it helps her relax at the end of a day that’s often spent inside a courthouse sparring with other lawyers.

“There are no thoughts going through my mind of work” when she’s coloring, said Love, as she grants a playful puppy Cornflower eyes and a Burnt Sienna collar. “I’m not distracted by anything else.”

It turns out Love is far from alone: Although they’re as disconnected from one another as a fresh connect-the-dots puzzle, plenty of adults still lay down colored wax on a regular basis. Most of them say it’s a stress reliever.

Sharon Sharp never colored as a kid. She picked up her first crayon while keeping vigil at the hospital bed of a very sick loved one.

“He doesn’t color,” Sharp recalled telling the nurse who came into the hospital room one day and set a coloring book and box of crayons on the table.

“It’s not for him. It’s for you,” said the nurse, with a soft smile before leaving the room.

The medical community has long touted the benefits of coloring for all age groups.

Two years ago, staff at Duke University Hospital noticed that requests for coloring pages far outpaced any other requested activity. So the hospital began printing its own coloring books to help ease the anxiety of patients and caregivers.

In 2013, the staff distributed 10,000 of the coloring books throughout the hospital.

Some experts say the calming effects of coloring stem from the freedom it allows.

“There’s not a lot of rules. About the only rule, and it’s not a hard and fast rule, is staying within the lines,” said Dr. Jonathan McKinsey, a psychiatrist with NorthEast Psychiatric Services in Concord. “It’s actually very therapeutic.”

It was for Sharp.

“It really just kind of centered me,” said Sharp, who filled the pages of that book, then bought another.

“It’s very frustrating to watch the love of your life almost die. The first picture I did, I did not color in the lines, and it was very freeing.”

For Beth Feeback, a local writer, painter and designer who created a series of coloring books called “Aunt Beth’s Brain Balm,” coloring is a lot like meditation.

“You kind of get lost doing it,” she said. “And it’s easier than yoga.”

Each time Feeback sells a book, she sends along a little advice.

“I tell people they have permission to color outside the lines,” said Feeback. “People are always staying in the lines.”

But not everyone who buys one of her books takes that advice. For some, color belongs safely tucked within the boundary lines, like sheep fenced in a field.

“I’m a routine-ish kind of guy. I do what I’m supposed to do,” said Ron Almond. He said he believes the key to serenity rests in the order that’s created by staying within the lines, not straying outside of them.

“I don’t vary outside the lines much. I like my colors to match,” Almond said. “I try to stick to what the true colors of things are.”

Almond picked up his colored pencils a couple of years ago to pass the time when the recession slowed business at his print shop.

“I’d stand in here and do nothing,” said Almond, pulling out a pocketknife and sharpening a pine-colored pencil. “It occupies my time.”

The blue binder he keeps on his shelf holds hundreds of loose pages, all colored so carefully they look like illustrations torn from a children’s storybook.

Unlike Almond, Love doesn’t keep her finished pages. Once they’re done, she admires them for a few minutes with a curator’s eye, then treats them like the residual stress from the day.

“I throw them away,” she said.