By Benjamin Sachs

7 Mental Health Benefits of Puzzling

How many times have you checked your phone today? 

According to one 2023 study, the average American checks their phone a staggering 144 times a day (which represents a major decrease from the 2022 results). 

And all of that screen time can have an enormous impact on your physical and mental health, affecting your sleep, your mood, and even your brain itself.

So combine the effects of screen time with the stressors of everyday life – like work, family, or the news – and you get skyrocketing rates of anxiety, depression, and stress. 

Of course, there’s no one cure-all for anxiety and depression.

However, studies show puzzles (yes, puzzles) can actually help combat mental decline, reduce feelings of anxiety and depression, and even support a stronger, healthier brain

Which is why I’m sharing 7 of the most powerful mental health benefits of puzzling.

#1 - Stress Relief

It may come as no surprise that jigsaw puzzling can reduce stress levels. After all, many people report feeling happier and more focused while completing a jigsaw puzzle. 

However, there’s actually proof this is true. A major 2018 study from Germany found jigsaw puzzling helped subjects regulate distressing emotions and reduce overall stress levels. According to the authors, “jigsaw puzzling could…[provide] a “breather” from stress, which may result from its focused attentional demands that enables a psychological time out from stressors.” 

In other words, you can become so wrapped up in a puzzle you completely forget about the problems stressing you out.


#2 - Sharpen the Mind

While there’s no actual proof a jigsaw puzzle will make you smarter, studies show puzzling can improve cognition and visual-spatial reasoning. Which makes sense, since puzzling requires the use of at least 5 major cognitive functions, including:

  1. Mental rotation – the ability of your brain to imagine 2D and 3D objects rotating in space and perspective.
  2. Working memory – your brain’s ability to retain small amounts of information for short-term use.
  3. Episodic memory – a form of long-term memory involving the recollection of past experiences.
  4. Processing speed – this is the time it takes to perform a mental task.
  5. Task switching – the ability to unconsciously switch attention from one task to another.

#3 - Relax and Focus

You’ve already learned puzzling can help relieve stress. And in addition to helping you relax, puzzling can also help you improve focus and concentration at the same time.

Only there’s a catch…

In order to get the most out of your puzzling time, you’ll want to put your cell phone in another room. Yes, it’s simply not good enough to just turn off your phone – you’ll want to keep your phone in another room entirely.

That was the finding of researchers at the University of Chicago. They asked participants to put their phones next to them so they were visible, nearby and out of sight, or in another room while completing a series of tasks. 

And what they discovered was pretty shocking… 

Participants performed far better when their phones were in another room. That finding held true even when the “nearby” phones were powered off

As one writer put it: “The mere proximity of a phone, it seems, contributes to ‘brain drain.’” 

So next time you sit down to puzzle, get the most out of the experience and keep your phone hidden away in another room.


#4 - A “Workout” For Your Brain

Two things happen in your brain when you look at a jigsaw puzzle piece.

First, the image of the puzzle piece travels from your eye to the occipital cortex (which is in the back of your brain and is responsible for visual perception of things like color, form, and motion).

Second, your brain does two things at once. First, it processes WHAT is actually on the puzzle piece (shape, image, etc.). Then, it figures out WHERE you saw it or put it (for example, maybe it’s a corner piece).

Making use of this information is extremely difficult for your brain. That's why doing this – taking visual information and translating it into a completed puzzle – is so powerful for overall brain health.


#5 – Enhance Creativity

Puzzling, it turns out, may also improve your creativity. 

That’s because puzzling can naturally activate a state of creative, focused meditation – something researchers call an “Alpha” state. In fact, one 2015 study found putting subjects in this Alpha state actually enhance their creativity.

Puzzles help you enter this state by forcing you to use both sides of your brain (the left and right hemispheres) at the same time

This helps your brain move from the wakeful “Beta” state to the restful dreaming “Alpha” state. 

And outside of an actual dream state, we can only produce this Alpha state of mind through meditation or mindfulness training. This means puzzling actually works like a “meditation hack” for your mind – forcing it to enter an Alpha state and thus giving you a creative boost.

Pretty cool, right?


#6 – Make Personal Connections

Whether it’s part of a team-building exercise, a date night, or a family get-together over the holidays, a jigsaw puzzle is a great way to connect with other people. 

That shared challenge and sense of accomplishments can be a relaxing way to come together with another person or group of people.

And social connection is hugely important for your mental health.

According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Research shows that social connectedness can lead to longer life, better health, and improved well-being.”

So if you’re looking for a way to connect with a friend, family member, or co-worker, a jigsaw puzzle like Waves may be just the ticket.


#7 – Live Healthier

Study after study shows how beneficial jigsaw puzzles are to keeping the mind active as you age. 

One even found that a lifetime of doing jigsaw puzzles was associated with visuospatial cognition in adults over 50 – these are skills needed for movement, depth and distance perception, and spatial navigation.

In other words, doing jigsaw puzzles can help you live a more high-functioning and independent life well into your 80s and 90s.

Put simply, jigsaw puzzles are a great way to de-stress, sharpen the mind, and enhance your creativity. And that’s true whether you’re 8 years-old or 80. So pick up a puzzle (like the 49-piece Waves Puzzle), relax, and let your brain do the rest. Happy puzzling! 

Author: Benjamin Sachs is the Co-Founder of Waves Puzzle. He’s also a full-time architect.

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