Colour therapy may improve mental health


Colour for healing was adopted 2,000 years ago in Ancient Greece, Egypt and China. They used colour and light in the form of sunlight, crystal reflections, paints and plants were employed to improve people’s moods. Colour therapy, also known as chromotherapy, is a form of therapy that uses colour and light to treat certain mental and physical health conditions.

The concept behind this alternative medicine therapy is that different colours evoke different responses in people. Some colours are considered to be more stimulating and energising, while others are more soothing. Because of this, it could be said that colour exposure can impact one’s overall mood, motivation, sleep, outlook, appetite and decision-making.

Types of colour therapy 

In colour therapy, it is believed that different colours can impact the body differently.

  • Red = stimulating. Connected with the root chakra and spin. Considered grounding, instinctual, life-giving. Thought to promote stamina, passion and circulation.
  • Orange = enthusiasm. Connected with the pelvis chair and tied to optimism, pleasure, sexuality, excitement, happiness and energy.
  • Yellow =  happiness. Connected with the naval chakra and tied to hope, willpower, laughter, warmth, optimism and hunger.
  • Green = acceptance.  Connected with the heart and tied to healing, balance, love, grounding, nature, growth, health, envy and calmness.
  • Blue = calmness. Connected with the throat chakra and tied to communication, knowledge, serenity, wisdom, loyalty and truth.
  • Indigo =  balance. Connected with the third eye chakra and clairvoyance, pain relief, prosperity, wisdom, royalty, mystery and respect.
  • Violet = knowledge.  Connected with the crown chakra and imagination, spiritual awakening, calmness, serenity and creativity. Purple utilises both red and blue to provide a nice balance between stimulation and serenity that is supposed to encourage creativity.
  • White = pureness. Connected with innocence, cleanliness and neutrality.
  • Black = authority. Connected with strength, power, evil, mourning and intelligence.
  • Brown = reliability. Connected with stability, friendship, sadness, comfort and security.

Mechanism of action

The Art Therapy blog explains that the psychology of colour is based on the mental and emotional effects colours have on sighted people in all facets of life. There are some very subjective pieces to colour psychology as well as some more accepted and proven elements. Keep in mind that there will also be variations in interpretation, meaning and perception between different cultures.

Hence, Colour is consistently used in an attempt to make people hungry, associate a positive or negative tone, encourage trust, feelings of calmness or energy, and countless other ways.

A study by Azeemi et al.(2019) shows that colour is visible to the human eye because of how it reflects, bends and refracts through particles and objects. Colour and light enter our bodies through both our eyes and our skin; and once they do so, they lead to electronic impulses that can activate the release of various chemicals and enzymes that affect how we feel.

A previous study by Azeemi et al. (2005) on chromotherapy explains the science of colour: “Light is electromagnetic radiation, which is the fluctuation of electric and magnetic fields in nature. More simply, light is energy, and the phenomenon of colour is a product of the interaction of energy and matter”.

Every colour has its wavelength, frequency and quantity of energy. All colours that we can see fall on the visible spectrum of light, and they have their electromagnetic frequencies.

Each unique frequency relates to a colour of the rainbow: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. Each colour has a different effect, so different colours are used for different purposes.


Improves seasonal depressive disorder

Dr. explained that people deal with seasonal affective disorder because of a lack of sunlight exposure. Most people do not go out to experience nature, and our inability to get natural light can increase the risk for depression. The reason is that sunlight tends to have a mood-boosting and energising effect — plus it can help regulate our circadian rhythm, which helps with sleep.

Soothing effects

Dr. also stated that some colours, such as blue, green and light purple, can have a calming effect on the mind and body, leading to physiological changes such as reduced anxiety symptoms, decreased blood pressure, slowed breathing and help with relaxation and sleep.

Green, especially when found in nature such as among forests and gardens, is another colour that may be used to help people feel more grounded, serene and balanced. Green is also considered the primary colour of healing since it’s associated with nature and growth.

Sometimes, art therapists instruct their clients to paint with a certain range of colours that help bring out buried issues or allow them to deal with them more effectively; and often, these include colours that can help fight stress such as lavenders, greens and blues. Sometimes therapists, especially eastern medicine practitioners, use colours in conjunction with other methods like vibrational healing or acupuncture to help restore someone’s “energy fields” and assist healing and mood stabilisation.

Energy boost  and motivation

Kim and Kang’s (2013) study found that art therapy utilising colours also improves the “purpose of life” among patients with post-stroke disabilities.

Dr. further noted that the colour red is one of the warmest and has the opposite effect as cooling colours, such as blue. It tends to be energy-boosting and can lead to increased heart rate, greater stamina due to adrenaline release, and sometimes anger or increased appetite.

Yellow is another warm colour that is invigorating. It’s often recommended for people suffering from depression or lack of motivation. It may also help boost creativity and logic. Therefore, along with orange – which promotes productivity – it is often used in school settings.

Desire to eat more

Stimulating colours, such as red, yellow and orange, are associated with motivation, which can increase the desire for food and other forms of excitement and reward.

Red may also boosts someone’s sense of smell while blue can have appetite-reducing effects in some cases. This is why places like restaurants, theatres and casinos often use these warm colours to appeal to customers’ senses.

How to get started

Dr. provided the following recommendations:

  • Get rid of blue lights at nighttime for better sleep. Research has shown that the blue light in your laptops, phones and televisions can affect your circadian rhythm, which affects your sleep quality. Wearing anti-blue light glasses or turning the settings on your gadgets to warmer yellow tones has been found to help. Blue light has a dark side. Read more at Harvard Health. July 7, 2020
  • Choose colours purposefully when painting rooms in your home/office — Consider how different colours affect your mood while in a room. For example, light blue, light green and lavender tend to be calming while warmer colours like yellow and orange are awakening. In classrooms, natural colours such as beige, light green and white may be best since some intense colours, such as yellow, may be too distracting for some students.
  • Get more sunlight exposure — Try to take advantage of sunlight’s uplifting effects by spending at least 20 minutes outdoors each day, which also offers additional mental health benefits by boosting vitamin D levels. Even if the sun isn’t bright and shining, and there aren’t blue skies to be seen, being outside can still be invigorating and relaxing.
  • Try colour therapy glasses — Coloured glasses allow you to choose how you want to feel based on the influences of different colours. They come in many shades and often block out UV light. It’s recommended that you wear your glasses daily for about 30 minutes to help impact your mood, such as wearing blue glasses for help with a lengthened attention span or yellow glasses for an uplifting effect.
  • Take advantage of colours found in nature — Being outdoors in nature is one of the easiest ways to expose yourself to various colours such as blue from skies, green from grass, blues from bodies of water, purples and reds from flowers and plants, etc.
  • Try creative activities like drawing and painting — Depending on your mood, try using colours for creative purposes that help bring about the mental state you hope for. For example, purple can help with self-knowledge and wisdom, indigo can promote creativity, intuition and visualisation, and greens can promote harmony and love. In general, colours used in art therapy practices have been shown to help people feel more energetic, less depressed and anxious, to support memory and communication skills, and to lead to feelings of affection and connection.
  • Consider red light therapy — One form of colour therapy uses light delivered into the skin. Red light therapy is an example of this approach. It uses red light within a certain wavelength range to promote mental or physical invigoration. Red light therapy uses include treating inflammation, pain, mood issues, skin issues and more.
  • Experiment with visualisation and crystals — Some people choose to utilise crystals to break up sunlight shining through and to emit different colours. Others might use visualiation and/or crystals while meditating or practising breathing exercises to put them into a certain state of mind. For example, you can practice visualising yourself surrounded by your colour of choice to help you relax or be more creative.

Things to consider 

While the premise of colour therapy is that certain colours elicit specific emotions from most people, this isn’t always the case. Human beings are unique. The effects of certain colours on people may range from person to person. Colours most people might find calming or soothing might be anxiety-inducing or depressing to others.

If you’re interested in using the effects of colours to manage mental health problems, it’s best to work with a trained practitioner at first.

Take home

Be intentional about colour choices. When picking colours for anything, from the colour of the walls in your room to the colour of the clothes you wear, choose colours that you find stimulating or elicit positive emotions. It’s important to reiterate that colour therapy doesn’t serve as a definitive treatment for any mental or physical health conditions. If you are experiencing a condition such as depression, it’s important to speak to your doctor about it.

>>>The writer is a Professor of Naturopathic Healthcare, a medical journalist, an author and a science writer.

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  1. Kim MK, Kang SD. Effects of art therapy using color on purpose in life in patients with stroke and their caregivers. Yonsei Med J. 2013 Jan 1;54(1):15-20. doi: 10.3349/ymj.2013.54.1.15. PMID: 23225793; PMCID: PMC3521264.
  2. Azeemi STY, Rafiq HM, Ismail I, Kazmi SR, Azeemi A. The mechanistic basis of chromotherapy: Current knowledge and future perspectives. Complement Ther Med. 2019 Oct;46:217-222. doi: 10.1016/j.ctim.2019.08.025. Epub 2019 Aug 30. PMID: 31519282.
  3. Azeemi ST, Raza SM. A critical analysis of chromotherapy and its scientific evolution. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2005 Dec;2(4):481-8. doi: 10.1093/ecam/neh137. PMID: 16322805; PMCID: PMC1297510.

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