Can color therapy help with depression?
The ancient practice of color therapy
Let’s talk about something fun today. I think pretty much everybody has colored something in their lifetime. Drawings and coloring books as kids. And maybe painting your room at some point. By the time we reach adulthood, we are generally familiar with colors and coloring. But, I bet not many people think about color as a form of therapy.
Color therapy, or chromotherapy, is actually an ancient practice. Light therapy was already utilized for healing in ancient Egypt. They applied sunlight, as well as the primary colors for therapy. There are also records that this practice happened in ancient Greece, China, and India.
Today, color therapy is not a medically recognized therapy for depression; however, there are studies and results that indicate color therapy could be a useful tool. The idea is based on the different wavelengths and vibrations of colors visible to the human eye. Combined with light, colors can be applied to the body, to activate biochemical and hormonal processes.
It is through these physical and energetic changes that color is thought to affect mood and depression. A very interesting pilot study has explored the link between treatment resistant depressed patients and color light therapy. The study found that after treatment with color light therapy, patients reported a significant decrease in depression. Their color preferences also changed from blue to green.
Getting to know color therapy
I first discovered color therapy when my sister had just finished her yoga teacher training. Part of her studies were focused on Chakra yoga. She came home with a big chart of the chakras and their colors. It was the first time I had ever even heard of chakras. Chakras are considered the energy wheels of our body. Each chakra has a specific color assigned to it and affects specific functions in your body.
From my sister I learned more about the main chakras and how I could work with them. Most of the color work I have done in the past and do now is based on the colors of the chakras. This is also where depression and color therapy started to connect for me. In any case, you do not have to work with the chakras, if that is not something you believe in. You can also just work with the different wavelengths of color and affect your body with light therapy.
For me, working with the Chakras was one more thing I wanted to try in the fight against my depression. Since I was actively looking for ways to break through, a non-invasive approach I had never heard of before sounded like something I needed to learn about.
I personally believe that ancient wisdom often has the power to heal us when modern medicine has reached its constraints. This is especially true when we talk about energy.
“I am a believer that color affects people's moods.”
- Lilly Pulitzer
We are all made up of energy and it only seems logical that we can affect healing and changes on an energetic level. Chakras are the energy wheels of our bodies and working with them can be one way to bring about healing. This was quite the learning curve for me, as I had focused a lot on western medicine and medication before.
Working with Chakras
Chakras are the energy wheels of the body. There are many chakras and chakra systems located throughout the body. Most western yogis work with a set of seven chakras that are located at specific locations throughout the body. Color therapy work generally focuses on those seven chakras. It seems that those seven chakras, their colors, functions, locations, and associations are a modern construct and not mentioned in this form in the ancient Indian teachings. But, for color therapy these seven chakras have worked well for me.
As energy wheels, our chakras are supposed to be spinning clockwise. Through trauma, stress, and other issues the chakras can become blocked, be slowed down, or spin counter-clockwise. The idea of color therapy work is to unblock, re-balance, or reset the chakras to resolve a variety of issues.
And this is where color therapy and depression cross paths.
In my personal experience with depression, I have worked a lot with the root chakra and the sacral chakra. The root chakra is located by your tailbone and is associated with security, survival, and basic needs. Its color is red. The sacral chakra is located just below your navel and is (in part) associated with emotions and creativity. Its color is orange.
When it comes to depression, it can be helpful to start your color therapy work with those two lower chakras. This means that my color work focused a lot around red and orange. Of course, I encourage you to do your own research and find out what works for you.
How to use color therapy
So, after deciding which colors to start working with, it came to actually working with the colors. There are a few different methods I tried with varying success. Colors can affect different people in different ways, so note any changes you are experiencing. If the changes are too much, simply cut back on the color you are working with.
As you work with color and your chakras, you might find that your need for one color decreases, while your need for another increases. Your energy is constantly in motion and your color needs will change. Be sure to adapt your color therapy accordingly. Just because you worked with red and orange to start does not necessarily mean your needs will be the same a few months later.
Chakra meditation and color therapy
The color therapy method that works best for me overall is doing guided chakra meditations for the specific chakra I have chosen. In my case with depression, I used the root chakra and sacral chakra meditations to start. You can find many free guided chakra meditations online. After some practice, you can also create your own color meditations, if you are comfortable.
In addition, you can purchase guided chakra meditations. I would suggest using the free ones first, to see if this is something you like working with. If chakra meditation and color therapy works well for you, you can always invest in purchasing meditations. Listen to a few different samples first and then choose someone you like listening to.
If you prefer, you can also just listen to meditation music and focus on your chosen color and chakra. Or you can simply meditate on your color and chakra without any music. As I started out, I definitely found that guided meditations were easiest for me to follow.
Coloring books and Mandalas
Meditation and chakras might not be your thing. You can incorporate color therapy through drawing as well. Find some adult coloring books or print off some Mandalas online and start coloring. You might choose to work with just one or two colors. Or you may like just coloring and taking that time to let go of whatever anxiety and negative feelings are bothering you.
Creative activities engage the opposite side of the brain that engages in worry. So, even just coloring or doodling can be an effective way to take a time out. I would suggest noting if you are drawn to any specific colors. Also note what kind of feelings these colors bring out and how you feel after your coloring session.
Color light therapy
Color therapy can also be applied in light form. As mentioned above, different colors vibrate at different frequencies and have different wavelengths. You can choose which color you would like to work with and find a light bulb in that color. Spend some time each day in the colored light and see what differences you notice. If you are working with color therapy to help with depression, a good starting point might be colors like red, orange, and yellow.
Painting your room & adding accessories
Of course, you can also make a drastic change and start painting your room or house. Color therapy will work in the same way as it does with light. The drawback will be that you might get very sick of the color after some time and have to repaint. You could also find that painting a room red, orange, or yellow can be too much color every day.
A simple way to work with color that is much less overwhelming than painting is accessorizing. Buy some towels or a rug in the color you want to work with. Or get some pillows for your couch. You could even purchase bed linens or curtains in the color you are working with. And if you want to keep it small, get a flower pot or a cup in your chosen color and put it where you can see it every day.
Wearing clothes for color therapy
If you don’t want to redecorate your home, you can also wear your chosen color. Pick out some shirts, pants, dresses, or skirts. If you like wearing scarves and hats, maybe try that. When it is a little colder outside, you may want to purchase a wrap or blanket you can wrap up in while you work from home or watch TV. Some people also like to apply eye-shadow or lipstick in their chosen color shade. And maybe you want to get your nails done in a specific color.
I also love color baths. This is not always practical, especially if you live somewhere very hot or have no bathtub. But I love having baths in the fall and winter and adding a splash of color has been great. You can purchase color bath drops or sachets online. Simply add your chosen color to your bath and enjoy the soak.
And lastly, you can also eat your chosen color. For me, this included a lot of strawberries and oranges in the summer. I also like red, orange, and yellow bell peppers, as well as those sweet grape tomatoes that come in red and yellow and carrots. You can be super creative here and adjust this according to your dietary needs.
Drinking your color is another option. I would encourage you to stay away from artificial drinks that are colored and instead choose some organic or fresh pressed fruit juices. If you are watching your sugar intake you can always mix a little bit of fruit juice with water, just to have a bit of color. Or use herbal and fruit teas for red and orange colors.
Working with color is fun and it can have many benefits for depression, anxiety, and stress. My list of activities is by no means exhaustive. I am sure you can come up with more fun ways to incorporate color therapy into your life. If you have kids, they might enjoy working on art projects with you. You might also have a lot of fun baking something colorful together.
No matter how you choose to do it, color therapy may be another way to help build a foundation against depression. If you like colors, working with specific colors for depression can possibly help decrease your depression. I can only speak from personal experience.
Through chakra meditations, I saw a change for the positive with my depression.
It is sometimes difficult to gauge the success of alternative and energetic healing. If you have a broken arm, you can tell after the cast comes off whether it feels better or not. Often, energetic healing instigates small changes in your body and mind. These changes may not be immediately noticeable. Over time, all small changes add up to an increase in healing you notice.
Color therapy can work the same way. Some days I noticed a big difference in how I felt after a chakra meditation. Other times, I worked with my colors over days or weeks and felt a small, gradual improvement over time. The key is to be consistent, have patience, and listen to your body.
So, vividly color your life and let it soak up the blacks and grays of depression!