Mental Wellness & Puzzles
The Mental Health Benefits of Jigsaw Puzzles in a Hustle Culture
Written by Jessica Komarow / January 12th, 2023 / Puzzle in the photo: Marching Spring by Helen Dardik
Where I live in the United States, our culture is constantly demanding “more”
Whatever position in life you are in, do more. Be more. Have more. Be better than the generation behind you, and leave more for the generation in front of you. More, more, more. We are busy. We are very busy, trying to achieve endless goals with a constantly moving goal post.
I don’t think that it is any coincidence that as of late, January resolutions have seemed to move away from achieving new heights and more toward the ideas of taking breaks, seeking mindfulness, and the constant idea of self-care. As someone with a degree in psychology, and who has also had years of therapy addressing these ideas – this is a hugely welcome shift. We need breaks. We need intentional time to care for ourselves and our mental well-being. But this is a blog about jigsaw puzzles… so where exactly am I going with this?
Jigsaw puzzles have been correlated with a whole gamut of cognitive health benefits from improved short-term memory, better visual-spatial reasoning, and problem-solving skills all the way to being associated with decreased risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. That being said, there are also an insurmountable amount of mental health benefits that I can personally attest to.
I am a busy mom of two tiny humans with a husband who works an ungodly amount of hours a week (there’s that “more” idea creeping up again… but I digress). I am also an introvert who happens to enjoy being at home. The typical self-care goals of “Gal’s Night Outs” or going out for a mani/pedi weekly are just not something that really appeal to me, nor something I have the bandwidth for because by the time I put my two little monste--- beautiful precious angels --- to bed, I am about ready to drop in to bed myself. What I look forward to each evening is sitting down with a hot beverage, popping on a pair of headphones, and spending time with a jigsaw puzzle. That is my self-care.
Here are a few of the different positive effects I have noticed on my mental well-being drawn from my experience as an avid jigsaw puzzle hobbyist.
Photo by @piecefulpuzzling / Puzzle: Magic Box by Soon Cho
1. Winding Down through a Meditative State
Have you ever noticed while doing a puzzle that your daily dose of anxiety and stress sort of melts away while in the midst of the task? That is your brain entering a meditative state. Puzzles have the unique ability to stimulate your brain while relaxing your mind at the same time. We can actually be drawn into it while focusing on puzzles, as searching for the “next piece” closes our mind to outside thought and draws it into that goal.
Meditation has been practiced for thousands of years for a reason. It brings a sense of calm, peace, and balance and allows you to focus on the present moment (in this case, working on a puzzle) while everything else melts away. Personally, I use puzzles as a way to wind down at night to go to sleep because of this effect!
2. Reduce Your Screen Time
I am absolutely guilty of rotating through various screens throughout my day. In fact, being completely honest, just looking around from where I am sitting - I am typing on a laptop, there is a desktop computer behind me, a giant television in front of me, my phone is next to me, and my daughter is on her tablet across from me. We love screens in this house and I am not afraid to say so! That being said, it’s pretty common knowledge that staring at screens all day can have some negative impact. Even at the simplest level, they can cause headaches, eye fatigue, and lead to poor sleep… and that’s not even taking into account the effects of the actual content we are consuming on our mental well-being. That is a big topic for another day. Puzzles are a mindful activity that involve 0 screen time. Lowering our screen time can reduce those negative effects and most importantly to this mom whose baby only just started sleeping through the night – improve our sleep!
3. Boost Your Mood with a Sense of Completion
You know that little rush of happy feeling you get when you literally check a box off of a list of tasks to do? That’s the effect of dopamine being released from your brain. Think of dopamine as a little messenger that your brain sends to the rest of your body. When the brain lets it go – you feel joy. Completing a puzzle has this same outcome! I personally get a little rush every time I place a piece, but that sense of satisfaction we get at the end of a puzzle gives me a huge rush of dopamine which in turn results in a better mood. Who doesn’t want that?
4. Connect with Family and Friends
My family has been known to insist that they “don’t like puzzles”, but let me tell you – when I put a puzzle on the coffee table over the holidays, they all seemed pretty eager to help! Collaborating on a puzzle together was a great activity that allowed us to connect in a new way. It opened up the door to new conversations as we all worked toward the same objective, giving us a common goal. We laughed together so much and we all clapped together when it was completed. The mood in the room was so purely joyful. My family of people who “don’t love puzzles” have already asked me to bring one to our next event.
There are so many benefits that come from puzzles to your physical brain, and your mental well-being.
Puzzles are not a substitute for things like counseling, healthy eating, sleeping, etc but can rather be another tool in your toolbox to support your mental health which in turn supports your overall wellbeing.
Get to know the Author: Jessica Komarow
Jessica is a puzzle Instagrammer and blogger and a member of the Puzzle Parley Steering Committee. She is a millennial mom of two little girls by day, and loves to sit down with a puzzle and an audiobook at night. You can find her at @PiecefulPuzzling on Instagram.