Monday, June 24, 2024

How Puzzles Can Relieve Stress, According to a Psychologist

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For as long as I can remember, my household has been preoccupied with puzzles. Right now, it’s a 2,000-piece challenge of a garden scene, complete with a few cats. I’ve never really been interested in helping out with the jigsaw task at hand. In fact, I’m usually the anxious Chatty Cathy distracting my family members from zoning in on the activity with my self-soothing rambles. When they do zone in, though — wow, they’re calm, relaxed, and nearly in a meditative-like state.

Is it true, however, that puzzles have a calming, meditative effect? I reached out to a licensed clinical psychologist to find out.

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Michelle McCoy Barrett, PhD, is a licensed clinical psychologist, certified yoga instructor, and scientific advisory board member for R3SET supplements. Her expertise is in mindfulness and stress management.

“Puzzles are more than just a way to pass the time,” Dr. Barrett says. “Particularly during periods of high stress, becoming immersed in a puzzle can be like practicing a mindful meditation — relaxing your mind and body, decreasing stress, and even slowing your heart rate and lowering your blood pressure.”

Dr. McCoy Barrett continues by referencing meditation teacher and author Lodro Rinzler’s words: “Mindfulness is the type where you bring your full mind to an object.” With puzzles, Dr. Barrett notes that you’re in the moment and focused on the task, but this particular task also hands over a sense of control. “During uncertain and stressful times, things that give you a sense of control, no matter how small, have a calming effect on the mind,” she says.

But puzzling isn’t the only pastime that can help you gain those mindfulness rewards. Dr. McCoy Barrett points to activities that consume your focus like crocheting, knitting, adult coloring books, painting by numbers, playing a musical instrument, or simply walking with mindful attention in nature.

“Hallmarks of these activities are time lapse (i.e. losing track of time), a calm mind, and lack of distracting thoughts,” she says. “It’s all about the process, not whether you consider yourself to be a game person or even particularly artistic. Just try to find immersive activities that require intense focus, attention, and behavior that leads to some form of completion, no matter how trivial. Engaging in these activities will allow your mind and body to relax and help you combat stress.”

I’m not sure I’ll ever get into puzzling, but hand me a set of colored pencils to de-stress, and I’m set.

Victoria Moorhouse is a beauty content director for Vox Media, where she oversees content for L’Oréal’s and She was previously a senior editor for PS, where she worked with partners to cover health, fitness, and wellness. She’s also contributed many beauty articles to the site.

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