NONE of us have found the last year easy. But while you might have been busy clapping for carers, homeschooling the kids or looking out for vulnerable family members, have you invested any energy in yourself and your wellbeing?

This, in short, is the concept of “mindfulness”. Mindfulness involves becoming aware of the present moment and our own thoughts and feelings, rather than letting our mind race away with itself. It can sound abstract, but mindfulness involves engaging with the simplest things: the feel of the wind on your face, your posture, being aware of when negative thoughts enter your head.

Adult colouring – which has seen its popularity swell in recent years – is a mindful activity where the simple act of holding a pencil makes you focus on the present. The artist largely credited with kickstarting the adult colouring movement is Aberdeenshire-based Johanna Basford, 37.

After studying textile design at Duncan of Jordanstone College in Dundee, Johanna worked as a freelance illustrator creating black-andwhite artwork for clients, when someone mentioned, tongue in cheek, that her illustrations would make great colouring pictures.

The rest is history. Several intricate colouring books followed with sales of Johanna’s books now at an impressive 21 million (and growing).

“I’ve seen a huge upsurge over the last year or so in the amount of people turning to colouring as a way to decompress, relieve stress and cope with all the big emotions that are going around at the moment,” she explains.

“And it is a great non-screen activity. The minute you are using an app, or doing something on a screen, bits of news can find their way in and you will often then find yourself scrolling endlessly. It is so bad for us — toxic even. But because colouring is ‘analogue’ it is a perfect digital detox, and it gives us an activity where you can be present in the moment and not find yourself distracted by what can be quite scary news.”

Johanna, herself busy homeschooling two young children, finds an unquestionable comfort in colouring. “There’s a certain charm to pencil and paper – the joy of turning a page, sharpening a pencil. It’s always quite nostalgic to do activities that are simple, that don’t involve battling with technology. They offer so much comfort, and I think that’s why so many people are getting into baking at the moment. It is these calming, nurturing activities that give you warm feelings from your own childhood and in moments of stress or fear they act like an emotional anchor, to take time out and process what is going on.”

The healing powers of art have been known for centuries. But the beauty of colouring, explains Johanna, is its accessibility. There is no complex equipment required, no daunting art classes or pressure to produce a masterpiece. Put simply: if it’s easy enough for children, it’s easy enough for adults, too.

“No matter who you are, what job you do, how you view yourself in society, I bet that when you were three years old and someone gave you a packet of crayons you were blissfully happy to be colouring and drawing. I think that there is something inherent in us all that wants to be creative, and colouring is a really easy way to flex those creativity muscles.

“You just grab a book, some pencils and put them to paper – it’s a wonderful first step back into being creative. And to anyone who thinks it’s not for them, I’ve had NHS doctors, frontline workers, stressed parents … all sorts of people telling me that they have found colouring a great way to reset and practise a bit of mindfulness.”

Inevitably, some will scoff and think they have far more important tasks to be getting on with. But it’s those people, suggests Johanna, who stand to gain the most from engaging with mindfulness.

“Everyone knows the ‘put your own oxygen mask on first’ analogy and if I’ve learned anything over the last year it’s that that is so vital. There are little ways of snatching moments of self-care throughout the day that I think we all need, otherwise you end up just grinding yourself down. Just as you would take vitamins, or daily medication, if you are doing something to look after your mental health it is just as important as taking care of your physical health.”

And if you do decide to take that first foray into adult colouring, one key question remains.

Pens or pencils? “I would recommend pencils,” Johanna laughs, “as ink tends to bleed for me because I push down quite hard. But part of the joy is finding what works for you.”