As people practice social distancing at home amid the COVID-19 pandemic, many have picked up new hobbies like tie-dyeing, baking banana bread and learning TikTok dances. Another increasingly popular pastime: doing jigsaw puzzles. © Markus Spiering / EyeEm via Getty Images There are psychological reasons to explain the appeal of jigsaw puzzles amid the pandemic.
“Our primitive lizard brains are on overdrive in quarantine. We know on a cellular level that there is a threat to our survival, as both individual humans and a species, so we are stuck in a fight-flight-freeze cycle where our brains can’t figure out which one will keep us alive,” psychotherapist Jenny Maenpaa told HuffPost.
“We’re not sleeping well because we’re staying alert enough to jump out of bed if the threat comes close enough to us, which our brains can’t understand is an unhelpful and irrelevant biological response to a virus,” Maenpaa said. “When we don’t get enough restorative sleep, our reaction times are slower, our emotional self-regulation is poorer, and we have trouble performing high-level cognitive functions. Puzzles are a surprising antidote to all of those challenges.”
But why and how exactly do puzzles soothe us during difficult times? HuffPost spoke to Maenpaa and other experts to find out.
They Offer A Sense Of Control
“While COVID-19 is associated with a lack of control and an unknown end, puzzles offer the opposite,” said Michael Vilensky, a psychologist at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center. “With a puzzle, with enough time and effort, we can control the outcome, know it will end, and experience a sense of relief and accomplishment when it’s finished.”
Karen Kavett is YouTube personality with a channel entirely dedicated to jigsaw puzzles. She told HuffPost she agrees that jigsaw puzzles are a great activity when the world feels out of control because the task is entirely within your power. You can do it solo or with a group. You can spend all day putting it together or just work on it for a few minutes at a time whenever you’re in the mood.
With a puzzle, with enough time and effort, we can control the outcome, know it will end, and experience a sense of relief and accomplishment when it’s finished.Michael Vilensky, Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center
“It’s also an activity where you’re simply assembling an item that already exists, rather than needing to expend mental energy to create something new,” she added. “Plus, since there are so many different types of jigsaw puzzles out there these days, anyone can find an image that speaks to them.”
There’s A Clear Purpose
Puzzles can provide a clear goal and sense of purpose in this time when people feel aimless and unable to map out future plans.
You Can Feel Accomplished
“Human beings perform best when we have tasks that we are competent at and can succeed at but that challenge us just enough to feel accomplished when we complete them,” said Maenpaa.
He added that jigsaw puzzles are unique in the way they engage the logical part of the brain (rationally fitting pieces together) and the creative side (envisioning the big picture of the completed work).
It’s A Meditative Experience
For many, doing a jigsaw puzzle almost feels like meditation. That’s how A.J. Jacobs, an author who is working on a book about different types of puzzles, describes the experience.
“Some jigsaw friends of mine talk about how time just melts away,” he said. “You feel like you’ve been working on a puzzle for five minutes, but in reality three hours have passed. That can be helpful when you’re stuck inside for two months.”
Focusing on individual puzzle pieces and one overall image forces people to be present and relax. It’s also a tactile task without external stimulation like screens.
© MoMo Productions via Getty Images Puzzles are great as a solo or group activity.
You Can Make It About Togetherness
“While puzzles can be satisfying on your own, they can also act as a welcome social activity during quarantine, in that the conversation can be about something other than COVID-19 and can bring about a sense of togetherness and working toward a shared goal,” Vilensky said.
They Provide A Welcome Escape
Jigsaw puzzles offer a way to break up the monotony of the day in quarantine. They also take us back to simpler times before the pandemic.
“Puzzles are a throwback,” said Vilensky. “Like other popular quarantine activities (bread-making, going for a drive), puzzles can help us connect to the past and offer a sense of familiarity that is reassuring during new and chaotic times.”
Kaeppeler noted that certain types of puzzle images are calming and appealing to customers because they provide a sense of escape.
“For example, images that have a first-person view of a setting provide a calm environment for someone to focus and relax,” he said. Travel-related puzzles can also offer a feeling of a getaway.
You might like to try one to see how a puzzle might work for you.
Article by Caroline Bologna