Why Are Jigsaws Relaxing?



A serene scene depicts someone relaxing while completing a jigsaw puzzle. The setting is a cozy room bathed in warm light, with the puzzle partially completed on a table. The background of the room adds to the comforting and peaceful atmosphere.

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Delving into the calming world of jigsaw puzzles and pondering why these intricate pieces offer such a serene and soothing experience? You’re not alone. Many individuals, from children to seniors, find solace in the act of piecing together a jigsaw puzzle, especially in today’s fast-paced world.

The calming nature of jigsaw puzzles is not just anecdotal; there are psychological and neurological reasons behind their relaxing effect.

I’ve pieced together a comprehensive guide that delves into the underlying reasons why jigsaws offer such a tranquil escape.

Let’s interlock our understanding, exploring the cognitive processes, mindfulness aspects, and therapeutic benefits of engaging with jigsaw puzzles, and discover why they are a go-to relaxation activity for many.

Why are Jigsaws relaxing?

Jigsaw puzzles are often perceived as relaxing for several reasons:

  1. Mindful Engagement: Working on a jigsaw puzzle requires concentration and focus, drawing the mind away from external stressors. This mindful engagement has a meditative effect, allowing individuals to be present in the moment.
  2. Achievable Goals: Completing a jigsaw provides a clear, achievable goal. Every piece placed correctly offers a sense of accomplishment, which can be therapeutic and satisfying.
  3. Tactile Stimulation: Physically handling and connecting the pieces can be soothing. The tactile experience can ground individuals and reduce feelings of anxiety.
  4. Structured Task: Puzzles provide a structured task that can help organize thoughts and provide a break from chaotic or overwhelming situations.
  5. Cognitive Exercise: Jigsaw puzzles stimulate the brain, enhancing cognitive functions like problem-solving and spatial reasoning. Engaging the brain in this way can act as a distraction from worries or negative thoughts.
  6. Creativity Boost: The colors, patterns, and images in puzzles stimulate the creative parts of the brain, providing a pleasant diversion and fostering feelings of relaxation.
  7. Reduced Screen Time: In today’s digital age, spending time away from screens can be refreshing. Jigsaw puzzles offer a break from electronic devices, reducing the strain on the eyes and mind.
  8. Endorphin Release: Like other rewarding activities, completing sections of a jigsaw puzzle can lead to the release of endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers and mood elevators.
  9. Solo or Social: Jigsaws can be done alone, offering solitary relaxation, or with others, providing a calming social activity that strengthens bonds without the pressures of intense conversation.
  10. Controlled Environment: In a world full of uncertainties, a jigsaw puzzle is finite and controllable. It offers a challenge that, with time and patience, can always be resolved.

In essence, jigsaw puzzles provide a combination of cognitive engagement, tactile stimulation, and a sense of accomplishment, all of which contribute to their relaxing nature.

Jigsaws are a popular pastime for all ages. From the simple peg puzzles, we give to toddlers to 3500 piece monsters that will take over the kitchen table for weeks, jigsaws all have something in common. They can’t be done badly. Solving puzzles can take time but you can’t get it wrong which is appealing to all ages.

The positive effects of joining both sides of the brain

Solving jigsaw puzzles requires the left and right-hand sides of your brain to work together. We need both sides of our brain to work together to build the neural pathways that make focus and recall easier and better.

Improving “whole-brain synchronisation” has also been seen to positive effects on mental health and the good news is these effects are cumulative over time and can be achieved by both children and adults.

Mindful EngagementJigsaw puzzles require concentration and focus, drawing attention to the present moment. This mindfulness can reduce the influx of stress-inducing thoughts.
Achievement & SatisfactionCompleting a puzzle, or even just finding a single matching piece, can provide a sense of accomplishment, releasing dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward.
Meditative StateThe repetitive action of searching for and placing pieces can induce a meditative state, calming the mind and reducing anxiety.
Cognitive ExerciseEngaging the brain in a cognitive task can divert attention away from stressors, acting as a mental escape.
Tactile StimulationPhysically handling and placing the pieces can be soothing. The tactile engagement can offer a grounding experience, connecting the individual to the present moment.
Pattern RecognitionThe human brain is naturally inclined to seek patterns. Recognizing patterns and predicting which pieces fit where can be intrinsically satisfying.
Control & OrderIn a chaotic or stressful environment, completing a jigsaw puzzle offers a sense of control and order, countering feelings of helplessness or overwhelm.
Creativity BoostVisualizing the bigger picture and strategizing about piece placement can stimulate the brain’s creative regions, offering a pleasant distraction.
Solo or Social ActivityJigsaws can be done alone, offering a quiet moment of solitude, or with others, providing a relaxed social bonding experience.
Reduced Screen TimeIn an age of digital overload, jigsaw puzzles offer a break from screens, reducing the associated eye strain and mental fatigue.

Mindfulness and relaxation through jigsaws

Mindfulness is a bit of a buzzword at the moment. Practising mindfulness in schools has been shown to have benefits to both learning and behaviour, and there are plenty of studies to show the benefits for adults too.

Mindfulness is the practice of purposefully focusing your attention on the present and accepting it without judgement. Completing jigsaw puzzles or other activities such as colouring in, provide a distraction for the mind and a way to focus on the present moment.

Completeing jigsaw puzzles is an absorbing task, so much so that you can lose hours to it and completely forget anything else that was troubling you.

And it is this meditative effect that makes puzzles so good for relaxation. It’s interesting that one of the reasons meditation has so many benefits is that it causes both sides of the brain to work together just like a jigsaw.

A calming sense of control

Focusing on a puzzle calms the brain. Focussing in this way, on a challenge with only one solution where you have pieces in front of you can give a sense of control and act as a great way to relieve stress and anxiety.

As you slowly complete the puzzle you are bringing order to the chaos which can have a calming and uplifting effect on the mind.

But the challenge can also help to develop patience and resilience. You won’t always get it the right first time and it might take many attempts to find the right piece and get it the correct way round so it fits.

But, as already mentioned, it might be slow progress but you can’t get it wrong, meaning anyone can complete a puzzle with a bit of perseverance. A great life skill to learn and it helps with visual spatial reasoning.

Completing a puzzle, whether you are young or old also brings with it a sense of achievement. Puzzles are a great way to build self-confidence in children as they feel the sense of pride they get from fitting the last puzzle pieces into the puzzle – a great problem solving skill.

Puzzles are also great as they can be either a solo or social activity. They are a great way to zone out and have a bit of quiet time but they can also be a family or social activity, bringing people together to connect. If you’re looking for puzzle shapes for kids here are some of the best jigsaws for young children.

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