Why People Turn to Puzzles for Stress Relief
For many, puzzling gives order to the chaos we feel right now
Danielle Levanas is on a puzzle streak.
Thanks to social distancing, the creative arts therapist has been holed up at home in Los Angeles with her husband and toddler since March. Between working at home and spending time with family in the last couple of months, she’s done five jigsaw puzzles of 1,000 pieces so far. Levanas enjoyed doing puzzles as a child, but amid the pandemic, her love of puzzles has blossomed even more.
“There’s nothing to be ashamed about [when it comes to doing] puzzles, but I probably wouldn’t be sharing how much I’m enjoying doing puzzles if we weren’t in a pandemic,” Levanas says with a laugh. “… I wouldn’t be telling a friend, ‘Oh I did this puzzle, you got to try it.’”
Before the pandemic hit, puzzles were already making a comeback. But now, social isolation during Covid-19 seems to have fueled a pandemic puzzle pandemonium. People who have never bought a puzzle are suddenly spending their Saturday nights working on them, and some are proudly posting their brightly colored 1,000 and 2,000 piece challenges on Instagram with hashtags like #puzzlelover, #puzzlesofinstagram, and #puzzleaddict. One game maker reported that U.S. puzzle sales were up 370% in late March.
Some of this puzzle mania may just be an antidote to boredom, but psychologists say puzzles are so much more than just a way to pass the time. Levanas, who treats people with eating disorders and has a private practice, says puzzles can serve as an exercise in mindfulness, providing rewards for staying calm and focused on the task at hand.
And Angela Garcia, PhD, a professor at Bentley University who has been researching puzzles for more than 20 years, says that the emotions, memories, and thought processes people experience when doing puzzles can lead to something she calls “guided daydreaming.” “Puzzling can metaphorically shrink life’s problems,” she says.
In a 2013 paper for the International Journal of Play, Garcia wrote that people who enjoy assembling puzzles tend to fall into one of four categories: explorers, detectives, matchmakers, and lion tamers. Explorers find motivation in discovering or…