If you’re feeling stressed out these days, you’re not alone. As the adage goes: adulting is hard! We all have a lot on our minds, and our human condition naturally inclines us to pay attention to stressors. News and social media feeds tend to double down on these biases. So it should come as no surprise that we feel more anxious today than in the past few decades, as revealed in this recent Gallup poll.
Puzzles have proven to be incredibly popular in the last few years, in large part because they provide a map leading away from the gloom, distractions and stress in our lives.
Proof in the Puzzling
You might be thinking, "Puzzles as stress relief? Come on! Really?"
Recent research has found that solving puzzles helps with stress in two main ways. First, puzzles provide a leisure-based coping mechanism for regulating distressing emotions. In other words, puzzles enable a timeout or a “breather” away from stress. These personal timeouts allow us to focus our minds on one task, letting all other worries fall to the wayside. When you’re completely absorbed in a puzzle, you’ve escaped at least momentarily from your never-ending to-do list. In that moment, it’s just you and the puzzle. The worries of the world can wait and take a back seat!
The second way puzzles can help with stress is by giving you access to your own innate dopamine resources. As an immersive creative activity, puzzles can provide predictable mood enhancement by delivering dopamine to your brain in a healthy & legal way! StumpCraft puzzles are especially good at delivering on this promise by getting you into a state of flow with novel, fun, whimsical pieces. Every piece you place reinforces and keeps you in that flow state, ultimately leading to a feeling of mastery when the final piece is placed.
Unplug, Unwind, and Recharge
With so many technological distractions competing for our attention, it can often be liberating to regularly prioritize some personal quiet time. We believe that a weekly or daily puzzle ritual can be that little encouraging nudge to slow down, unplug, and relax.
When I puzzle, I typically do it away from my phone. At a minimum, I’ll have my notifications silenced. I’ll have a nice cup of tea or coffee to sip on, and then a favourite album or audiobook playing quietly in the background. Then it’s just me and the puzzle. I enjoy sorting through the various shapes and colours, picking out interesting shapes, rotating pieces in my hand, and listening to the wooden pieces ‘click’ into place.
Part of the fun is discovering what works best for you: time of day, favourite puzzling spots, lighting a candle, puzzling with others or alone. Playful experimentation with each of these elements of your personal puzzle time is also what puzzling is encouraging you to do. Puzzling is all about looking at the pieces in order to make them fit into a larger, more beautiful whole. It’s a visual and tactile reminder of the beauty in connections, and your capacity to fit things together in their proper place.
Zen at your Fingertips
Puzzles can also act as a form of meditation. While meditation apps and teachers typically encourage you to focus on the breath, puzzles provide an alternate physical "object" to focus your attention on. Each puzzle piece is like one breath, or one moment in time. Deep states of relaxation can be unlocked by picking up a piece, examining it, appreciating it and then letting it go to focus on another. As with meditation, puzzles remind us of the art of noticing.
While research is still preliminary, early signs suggest that puzzling and meditation share in a variety of cognitive benefits, including reduced stress levels and better mental clarity, both of which help protect against cognitive decline and dementia in the long term.
In a world where stress and anxiety levels are rising, StumpCraft invites you to take a puzzle pause from the chaos of the world and to make something beautiful one piece at a time. If you’re looking for a fun, mindful relaxation activity at home, and browse our full catalogue of puzzles. Your mind and nervous system will thank you.