This winter promises to be a long one, and finding ways to take care of your mental health — or just simply finding something to do when you’re holed up at home — are more important than ever. The strangely calming practice of solving a puzzle is one way to accomplish both!
But what is it about a jigsaw puzzle that feels so meditative? Aprilia West, a clinical psychologist in Los Angeles, says puzzles give your mind one thing to focus on so you can take a break from the constant task-switching most of us do throughout the day.
Puzzle-solving also offers a much-needed sense of certainty. There are clear beginning and ending points, which can feel good when everything else is up in the air. People can also use puzzles to manage their emotions, West says, by shifting attention from something upsetting to something neutral.
But fixating on a jigsaw puzzle for a couple of hours isn’t just helpful for in-the-moment feelings. Puzzles can also have long-term effects on the brain. According to Ash Nadkami, a psychiatrist and instructor at Harvard Medical School, puzzles have been found to improve visuospatial cognition (for example, depth and distance perception and detecting patterns). Studies show working on a puzzle can also improve brain reserve, or the ability of the brain to tolerate age-related changes.
The social aspect is also important. If you have a quarantine pod, working on them can help connect you with other people. “With all the screen time necessary to complete tasks, people can wind up spending time together more passively, sitting side-by-side while perusing the internet,” Nadkami says. “Puzzles are a way to draw people out of their own internet-fueled worlds and connect them to each other, necessitating active collaboration to reach a common goal.”
Here, find our favorite puzzles, from smaller puzzles that will take less than an hour, including an iridescent puzzle with multiple solutions, to larger, more challenging puzzles that will keep you occupied for a few afternoons.
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