Mental Health Awareness Month 🧠 Are jigsaw puzzles good for your mental health?

There are many ways you can improve your mental health — from getting fresh air and exercise to eating healthy, taking up relaxation practices, or speaking with a therapist. There’s also another way to improve not only your mental health but your memory as well, and it just might be something you really enjoyed doing as a kid — jigsaw puzzles.

I’ve probably always had a minor anxiety issue, but since the pandemic, it’s gone into overdrive. It’s the kind of anxiety where, even when I remove the stressors and solve the thing I was worried about, my nerves take a while to catch up. My mind still races, my heart rate is elevated, my stomach hurts — sometimes it takes all day for the feeling to go away.

Normally, I’d try to distract myself with something else, like a TV show or a book — but lately, it’s gotten so bad that I can’t even focus on those things.

So, I’ve turned to jigsaw puzzles.

Jigsaw puzzles are a great meditation tool and stress reliever. 🧘

The 1000-piece Round Colour Mandala Jigsaw Puzzle is a great meditation tool and stress reliever.
Particularly during periods of high stress, becoming immersed in a geometric circular puzzle can be like practicing a mindful meditation — relaxing your mind and body, decreasing stress, and even slowing your heart rate and lowering your blood pressure.

 

Jigsaw puzzles can help keep your mind engaged and healthy. As you disconnect your brain from the demands of everyday life for the next few hours, you can truly appreciate the benefits of jigsaw puzzles. As a puzzle is pieced together, external worries and stress decreases as the mind focuses on an activity that is both meditative and satisfying.

My mum is a longtime jigsaw puzzler — a puzzler mum if you will. When I was young, seeing her lean over a pile of puzzle pieces, connecting them together to form various pictures of flowers or landscapes or works of fine art was a nightly thing. She even had a wooden table dedicated to her puzzling hobby, complete with a special lamp and leather chair.

I always thought of her jigsaw addiction as a quirky, endearing "mum" trait. So when I started noticing the puzzles popping up more and more in my daily life, at first I thought I was homesick. But as I listened to my friends gush about how jigsaw puzzles helped them relax and unwind, I found myself wondering whether this was an actual trend.

At the onset of the COVID-19 stay home orders in the UK, it was quickly understood that we’d be facing shortages of some essentials: hand sanitiser was nowhere to be found, toilet paper was flying off the shelves, and even food was scarce in many grocery stores. One thing I didn’t expect to sell out nationwide — the humble jigsaw puzzle, which became a hot commodity.

And just like the adult colouring book craze of 2015, this trend is being driven at least in part by jigsaw puzzles' ability to bust stress. Research suggests that puzzles may help your brain, and even potentially prevent cognitive disorders as you age. There’s anecdotal evidence from many a jigsaw puzzler about how puzzles have helped them cope with ADHD, anxiety, PTSD, and even insomnia.

To me, jigsaw puzzles are more than a quarantine trend — they’re my mindfulness practice. 

1000-piece Girl With A Pearl Earring Modern Art Jigsaw Puzzle from Rest In Pieces UK
Bonus benefit:  Consider framing a completed jigsaw puzzle — especially if it is too special to take apart like this modern geometric update of Johannes Vermeer Girl with a Pearl Earring painting. Puzzles are often connected to wholesome memories and the feeling of accomplishment.

 

There’s no real multitasking in puzzling; it requires attention. If you’re looking at the TV, you’re not looking at the pieces, and if you have your phone in your hand, you’re not able to put them together. Focusing solely on something visual and physical lets my mind quiet down. It is easier to focus when you are happier and less worried. My productivity soared as my concentration improved. Taking a brief pause to tackle a puzzle and reset my brain when I was having difficulties keeping focused on my job.

Jigsaw puzzles provide many benefits that help keep your brain sharp and can help you perform your very best while at work. 💼

I started doing jigsaw puzzles in work to cope with the stress of my job as copyeditor in a newsroom. It became a habit, and a form of meditation for me. My boss set up a puzzle table next to one of the cubicles with a puzzle, and every time we’d walk by it, my coworkers and I would place a few pieces here or there. Sometimes, we’d work on it together during our lunch break. Something as simple as a puzzle was good for team bonding and morale, and it was a good way to take a quick break after a stressful client phone call.

Another reason to include puzzles in your office is that they encourage coworker collaboration. Researchers from Yale University discovered that allowing employees to puzzle together in the workplace improved their connections as well as their capacity to cooperate and function as a team.

Jigsaw puzzles are surprisingly relaxing and slow down your mind before bed. 😴 

“It’s a bizarre recommendation,” says Doctor Jim Horne, the author of Sleeplessness, who advises people to try puzzling if they're consistently stressed at night. Looking for matching pieces takes your mind off your worries, he says. “It’s a great distraction. It might sound pointless, but it’s even more pointless to lie down at night thinking about trying to go to sleep."

Some activities, dependent upon how you do them at night, may negatively impact your sleep. People shout out to do things such as, “READ”, and yes, reading can help you sleep, but you could be reading something that’s actually stimulating your mind and making you want to do things. Any type of entertainment, like reading, can force our minds to stay awake because we’ll say, “just ten more minutes, I want to finish this chapter,” or, “What harm will staying up thirty more minutes do? This book is getting good!” It’s important to be careful of how you use your evening hours. Jigsaw puzzles keep our thoughts from racing and obsessing over unimportant issues. The transition into the evening and to the bedroom should be a smooth, calming one.

 

1000-piece Round Pantone Colour Palette Jigsaw Puzzle from Rest In Pieces UK

 

You’re not able to think of anything else while solving this round colour wheel jigsaw puzzle and after a few solves you’ll have worn out your mind and be ready for sleep. The feel good benefits from doing a puzzle is certainly a positive for sleep. 

It’s relaxing because it forces you to not do a couple of things. There’s no way to be on a screen when you’re doing it, and there’s really no way to multitask. It’s just you and your puzzle, and it’s a full-brain exercise that lets you tune out all your other concerns and stressors in that moment. Another mental health benefit that jigsaws provide is the separation from digital devices. Smart phones and social media has a huge impact on our mental health. People are recognising the importance of having a regular digital detox and dedicating time to take a mental break away from online pressures to refocus the mind. Now, more than ever, people are looking for offline activities.

All your brainpower goes to finding two pieces that fit perfectly together. 

Puzzles reduce stress because they distract our brain with finding patterns, which then triggers a hormone response and lowers cortisol. Puzzles also help us get “in the zone,” or into a state of flow where we are hyper-focused on the task in front of us and the rest of the world melts away.

Solving a jigsaw puzzle allows you to develop important cognitive abilities such as problem-solving. Even in old age, jigsaw puzzles can help the brain remember and establish cognitive associations. The old adage ‘use it or lose it’ seems to have some truth after all.

The beauty of a jigsaw is that it can be an excellent solo activity but can also bring people together and combat loneliness when solved with in a group. 👨‍👩‍👧‍👧

Isolation has been shown as a contributing factor in worsening mental health, and those with mental health issues tend to report increased loneliness. However, it can be difficult for those suffering with issues such as depression and anxiety to step out and make new friends. Board games solve a lot of these problems as they offer a structured way to meet others. Instead of needing to strike up a conversation from scratch, having a game as the focus of the activity allows friendships to build slowly in a less formal or pressured way. Having a regular group of people to host jigsaw puzzle nights will help stave off loneliness, and builds positive relationships with others, all things that are associated with good mental health. Jigsaw puzzle cafes are springing up around the UK and all you need to do is turn up, talk to the staff and you’ll soon find someone to solve a fun jigsaw puzzle with.

Solving jigsaw puzzles is a low-cost, intrinsically motivating, cognitive leisure activity. Jigsaw puzzles are a great way to connect with others, to take you away from the normal troubles of life for a few hours, and to give your brain a workout. Why not see if there’s one out there that will suit you?

Let’s be clear: jigsaw puzzles don’t magically address serious concerns like severe stress, anxiety, and depression. But we love the examples that show puzzling can release positive endorphins and improve a person’s mood. Some studies even show they are linked to improving symptoms of depression. Again, it’s no magic fix, and there are a lot of great, professional resources to turn to for mental health help. But for anyone who knows the struggles of dealing with these things, jigsaw puzzles can offer a little bit of sunshine one piece at a time.

Mental Health Awareness Month 2022 is a great opportunity to open up and start a discussion about mental health. Puzzles and mental health can definitely have some overlap, and we think it’s worth celebrating! It’s a great reason to support the discovery of new jigsaw puzzles!

Rest In Pieces does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Any information published on this website or by this brand is not intended as a substitute for medical advice, and you should not take any action before consulting with a healthcare professional.

 

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