Doing Jigsaw Puzzles for Stress Relief

Stress and anxiety can be crippling. I know. I've endured very high stress with the long-term terminal illness of a family member. So I know exactly how much stress can affect mental health and general well-being.

As well as being fun and rewarding, jigsaw puzzles for me also have the added benefit of being good as a method of stress relief. They can be calming, quite meditative and a great way to ease anxiety.

Thankfully I discovered just how beneficial doing jigsaw puzzles can be and how they really helped my stress and anxiety by providing a wonderfully calming and relaxing hobby for me to enjoy.

Disclaimer: This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide any kind of medical advice or to take the place of advice or treatment from a doctor or physician.

Why Doing Jigsaw Puzzles for Stress Relief and Anxiety Can be Highly Beneficial

Doing Jigsaw Puzzles for Stress Relief and Anxiety why jigsaws and puzzling can be really beneficial to your mental health and well being

Photo from my Clementoni, Lighthouse at Sunset jigsaw puzzle. Artist: Steve Sundram.

I turned to jigsaw puzzles at the very peak of emotional turmoil and stress when a cherished family member was diagnosed with a terminal illness. Puzzling helped me during the most stressful time both during the illness and also whilst grieving after they had passed.

There's no doubt to me that I find jigsaw puzzles to be extremely calming. For however long I have to work on a puzzle, whether it is minutes or hours, this tactile hobby helps to take my mind off my worries and I seem to enter a very calming and almost meditative space.

Are Jigsaw Puzzles Good for Stress?

Jigsaw puzzles have helped more than any other hobby to provide me with a lot of stress relief. I normally love reading, but found that while stressed it is really hard for me to either start and get into a new book or continue with an existing one.

I think the reason why books are no good for me as a stress reliever is because it takes me too long with a book to jump from a stressful state where my mind is racing into a mood that is calm enough to enjoy reading.

Jigsaw puzzles however are very different and I have no doubt that they are especially good for dealing with my own stress. I have read endless accounts of them being good for other people looking to calm different types of stress and mental health issues as well.

Dr. Susan Vandermorris, a clinical neuropsychologist, states that "In our hyperconnected world, if you’re physically doing a paper or cardboard puzzle, you are, by definition, disconnected and engaged in a task that’s immersive, away from the interruptions and stresses of day-to-day life. And that, of course, is good for your brain health."

Reasons Why Jigsaw Puzzles Help Me as Stress Relief

1) Puzzling is very tactile.

From the moment you dip your hand inside the box, you can feel the puzzle pieces as you start to sort them or pick them out. So rather instantly, I am altering the focus of my mind by introducing the physical art of touch.

It might sound silly, especially to someone who's never done a jigsaw before, but just the feel of the pieces can be really satisfying.

Some have a slightly textured matte finish and some are very smooth and glossy. Some are smooth one side and slightly rough on the other. Each puzzle piece feels good between my fingers and I actually like the feel of some brands more than others.

2) Jigsaw puzzles shift the mind's focus.

The act of working on a puzzle, helps to take my mind off other things. If my mind is racing with stressful and nagging thoughts, a puzzle will quickly calm my mind and my mental state and then shift my attention, focus and concentration purely onto solving the puzzle.

Very soon I am immersed in the jigsaw puzzle and I feel calmer, happier and at peace. It is almost like being transported into another world, somewhere better. While doing the puzzle I can take my mind off all the things that were bothering me and contributing to my stress.

Sometimes the artwork of the puzzle will help but always just the getting involved with the puzzle soon takes my mind off anything disturbing and gives me stress relief quite unlike anything else.

3) Sorting and organizing gives a sense of control.

Sorting out and separating the edge pieces and any type of sorting and organizing puzzle pieces helps me to feel like I'm in control.

My thoughts may have been out of control and increasing my stress and anxiety, but sorting and organizing the puzzle pieces helps to put me in a position of being back in control.

This feeling of being in control of something helps me to master my own stressful and racing thoughts. I can at least control the jigsaw puzzle and that knowledge helps me to calm and control my own thoughts.

4) Provides a continued sense of achievement.

Obviously I get the biggest sense of achievement every time I solve and finish a jigsaw puzzle.

However there are also smaller and continuous feelings of achievement such as when I happen to fit a piece that I've wanted to find for some time, when I finish a tricky area such as a sky, water, snow or somewhere the colour all seems the same.

Getting a sense of achievement while working on each jigsaw is a positive mental boost that also helps with stress relief and anxiety.

5) Focusing on the artwork can be meditative.

I spend a lot of time looking at the artwork of the puzzle design. I look at the box or the included poster art and get familiar with the picture so I have a good idea of where each piece may fit.

Looking at the artwork for a while, studying it, I can often feel myself going into a little bit of a trance, like a meditation state.

Studies show that meditating daily can in fact put your body into a calmer state by lowering your blood pressure. Meditation is a known relaxation technique so I know when I'm in this state whilst doing a jigsaw puzzle, I'm physically calming my mind and body.

6) Having some much needed ME time.

Mostly, I work on jigsaws alone. I have a quiet space in the home where I can shut the door, retreat and work on a puzzle.

I happen to find that time for myself is a necessary away from all the noise and the constant interruptions that go hand-in-hand with a modern life. Having some time to myself to enjoy a hobby is a great stress reliever.

7) Enjoying some quality time with family.

Although mostly I do jigsaws alone, at weekends my husband and I will often enjoy working on a smaller, 500 piece puzzle together.

Sharing some quality time bonding over a jigsaw is a lovely way to help put me into a calmer and happier state of mind. Quite often we will make a grab for the same piece, or have a little tussle over who fits the last piece and then laugh about it.

We enjoy a chat and a cuppa while working on solving the puzzle and this shared time is just as valuable as the frequent me time that I spend enjoying jigsaws on my own.

8) Jigsaw puzzle retail therapy.

One thing that doesn't often get mentioned is how enjoyable buying and collecting puzzles can be, especially when you get hooked on them.

Most of us know about the short-lived benefits of retail therapy and the buzz that can be had from buying, sometimes called comfort buying, that can help with stress and depression.

Well buying jigsaw puzzles can get quite addictive. I enjoy the whole process from searching for puzzles which are both old ones and new ones, collecting puzzles such as sets like the limited edition Waddingtons Christmas designs, and get a buzz from it all.

Buying jigsaw puzzles is definitely a stress reliever for me, but I am aware of sticking to a budget that I can afford to spend and not going over that budget. Otherwise it could unfortunately turn into a hobby that adds stress rather than reduces it if I overspent on buying puzzles.

How do Puzzles Reduce Stress?

Studies, such as the MacArthur study, have been conducted and show that activities including jigsaw puzzles and other mind puzzling games can have all kinds of positive benefits such as: a better quality of life, longer life expectancy, a reduction in certain mental illnesses like dementia, memory loss and Alzheimer’s.

Working on jigsaw puzzles actually uses both sides of our brain simultaneously. It uses the left side of our brain, the more analytical, rational, thinking side to logically sort and organize the puzzle pieces into their positions.

It uses the right side of our brain, the creative and emotional side as we see the image start to form. Subsequently we start to feel good with a sense of achievement at piecing the puzzle together.

Exercising both sides of our brains simultaneously, at the same time, creates connections between each side of our brain. These connections are brilliant for our mental and brain health because they help our learning ability, our comprehension and our memory.

Additionally, exercising both sides of the brain at the same time with jigsaw puzzles can also help our brain to shift from a Beta state which is a wakeful mind into an Alpha state.

The brain in an Alpha state is the same thing that we experience while we dream. It is more of a meditative state that helps to connect us to our subconscious mind. This science can help to explain why doing jigsaw puzzles can be such a calming process which leads to a reduction in our stress and anxiousness.

Whilst working on jigsaws, the brain increases levels of dopamine which is the body's natural feel-good chemical or happy hormone. The increased dopamine helps us to literally feel better and therefore helps to reduce stress and increase our feelings of happiness and pleasure.

So studies and science does show that doing jigsaw puzzles really are beneficial for stress relief.

Discover exactly how I use jigsaw puzzles to take my mind off stressful things.

Tip on Smaller Jigsaw Puzzles to De-Stress

Smaller 500 piece puzzles worked best for me during the initial months of bereavement and the most stressful period of my life because smaller jigsaws are more portable and they don't take too long to do.

Smaller and more portable puzzles allow me to do those easily on a board while sitting comfortably on the sofa, or even sitting in bed if I'm having an especially hard day and stressful day.

Add on the fact that 500 piece puzzles are generally (though not always) easier and quicker to complete for adults than the standard 1000 pieces which in theory means you could complete twice as many in the time you have for puzzling.

Here's how to do a 500 piece jigsaw puzzle filled with loads of my tips and tricks to help you get started on this wonderful stress busting hobby.

Doing more jigsaw puzzles may in fact lead to creating more of that brain chemical dopamine, the happy hormone, from the satisfaction and natural high or buzz you get from completing each jigsaw puzzle.

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Articles are accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in medical, business, financial, legal, or technical matters. All images on this site are my own or are product and public domain photos that are used with permission.