Many of us are juggling ever increasing numbers of balls and to counteract this, mindful pursuits are on the up.
For those looking for a new tool to add to their mindfulness toolbox, jigsaw puzzles could be the answer, as they are increasingly becoming a go-to for escaping stress.
Here’s how jigsaw puzzles can have positive effects on your brain.
1.Both sides of the brain
Putting together the pieces of a puzzle uses both sides of your brain like a spot of ‘mental jogging’.
The left, practical side of your brain, gets to work sorting and organising the pieces. The right, more emotional side of the brain creates a mental picture of the finished piece and connects with the artistic imagery and imagination.
Both your long and short-term memory benefit from puzzling.
While you’re sifting through the pieces, you’re subconsciously logging them for future reference. You’re also memorising gaps and shapes in your puzzle, and this info is all being stored.
Puzzling is great for motor skills too, whatever your age.
Having to manipulate pieces in all kinds of directions is good practice for tots and adults too. Even those with Alzheimer’s or dementia might help put the puzzle together by sorting the pieces by colour. A clinical trial discovered that puzzling regularly could help to maintain cognitive abilities into older age.
Completing a jigsaw offers a strong confidence boost and sense of satisfaction that shouldn’t be underestimated, as Prof Dr Iris-Tatjana Kolassa of Ulm University explains.
‘The small successes you experience when you find a piece increase your wellbeing and self-efficacy, which is the conviction you can manage difficult situations yourself.’
Puzzles help you get in the zone. The correct puzzle can fully engage you, shutting out worries and anxieties and focusing your thoughts on the activity at hand. Time can seem to either speed up or, conversely, stop completely.
Experts call this being in a state of flow. Mindfulness like this is known to have long-term benefits for health too.
TV psychologist Emma Kenny explains. ‘Puzzles act as a type of informal mindful practice, allowing a connection to the here and now. The ability to be present in the given moment has been shown to reduce stress, increase wellbeing and promote a healthy mindset.’
It can help your aches, too.
Jigsaw puzzles are now designed with people with manual dexterity issues in mind, and come in varieties where pieces are approximately three times the size of a regular puzzle piece.
The Beckhams are among the celebrity fans of puzzling, with Victoria recently revealing she bought David a puzzle for Christmas.
Leading adult puzzle manufacturer Ravensburger revealed recently their sales of adult puzzles were up by 17%* (NPD, October 2019).
So where should you start if you’re picking up a puzzle for the first time in a while?
Ravensburger’s Sarah Stevens, a world-leading expert on puzzles with over 36 years’ experience, has some simple advice.
‘Choose a picture with plenty going on, and a manageable piece count. The best mindfulness benefit will come from finding a puzzle that matches your skill level and with a picture that you connect with emotionally.
Don’t be tempted to leap straight in with a baked bean puzzle that will leave you frustrated and could leave you unable to finish.’