PTSD's true color: Examining the effect of coloring on anxiety, stress, and working memory in veterans

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Given the high prevalence of PTSD in veterans (up to 30%), it is important to consider alternative treatments targeted at reducing some of the negative mental health symptoms, such as anxiety and stress. Coloring, and art therapy more generally, has been reported to be one of the most effective treatments in reducing the symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder. Previous research on the benefits of coloring have focused on samples comprised of undergraduate students or children, rather than a population who suffer from anxiety disorders. Thus, the aim of the present study was to extend this existing research and investigate effects of coloring activities in veterans with PTSD. The present study included mandalas for structured coloring compared with free-drawing as an unstructured coloring activity. The findings revealed several key patterns: (1) veterans with PTSD showed decreased anxiety in the structured coloring condition, but not free-form coloring condition; (2) veterans with PTSD showed decreased stress in both structured and free-form coloring conditions; (3) both those with and without PTSD had higher working memory scores in the free-form coloring condition. While the coloring and drawing activities in this study do not constitute art therapy, the results suggest that these simple activities that can be done on an individual basis may yield both mental health and cognitive benefits, especially for veterans with PTSD.

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Mental Health and Prevention



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