Monday, January 8, 2018

Jigsaw Puzzles as Coping Tools

By Amy Grabowski, MA, LCPC
In my Thursday evening Women’s Therapy group we were discussing tools and resources for dealing with anxiety. We talked about deep breathing and yoga. Then one woman said, “Jigsaw puzzles.” The group stopped, considered that for a while, and the discussion veered towards how perfect jigsaw puzzles were for anxiety relief.
“It keeps my hands busy.”
“My mind focuses on the colors and shapes rather than what I’m worried about.”
 “I don’t eat while doing a jigsaw puzzle—I don’t even think about food!”
“It gives me something to talk about when spending time with my Dad.”
I love jigsaw puzzles. There’s something calming and very Zen about building a jigsaw puzzle—starting with the edges and then working inward to complete the image. Every New Years Day, my family and I build a jigsaw puzzle. I bring a puzzle when I visit with my Dad. (Yes, that was my comment above) He’s a hard person to talk to, but we can spend hours building the puzzle and we talk at length about the various colors and shapes and the difficulty. 
I was curious about why puzzles are so calming and did some research. Doing jigsaw puzzles exercises both halves of your brain: the left brain uses logic and sequence while the right brain uses creativity and spatial imagery. Exercising both halves of the brain has been shown to decrease the risk of developing dementia or Alzheimer’s disease!
The production of dopamine is increased while doing jigsaw puzzles. In the simplest of terms, this is the chemical in the brain that keeps us happy and healthy. It is also responsible for reward-seeking behavior. Every time you find the correct puzzle piece your brain registers a “reward.” And there’s a sense of pride and accomplishment when you finally put in the last piece! 
While building a puzzle you concentrate and become more attentive, while at the same time your mind can roam around all the pieces until you spot the piece that fits. It is a form of meditation, which makes you feel calm and peaceful!
There are physical advantages as well by lowering the rate of respiration, reducing blood pressure, and decreasing the heart rate.
Here’s a short piece about jigsaw puzzles. I hope you enjoy it!
Everything I Need to Know About Life I Learned From a Jigsaw Puzzle
By Jacqui Sewell
• Don't force a fit. If something is meant to be, it will come together naturally.
• When things aren't going so well, take a break. Everything will look different when you return.
• Be sure to look at the big picture. Getting hung up on the little pieces only leads to frustration.
• Perseverance pays off. Every important puzzle went together bit by bit, piece by piece.
• When one spot stops working, move to another. But be sure to come back later (see above).
• The creator of the puzzle gave you the picture as a guidebook.
• Variety is the spice of life.  It's the different colors and patterns that make the puzzle interesting.
• Establish the border first. Boundaries give a sense of security and order.
• Don't be afraid to try different combinations. Some matches are surprising.
• Take time to celebrate your successes (even little ones).
• Anything worth doing takes time and effort. A great puzzle can't be rushed.
     I have started a Jigsaw Puzzle lending library located in the stairwell at The Awakening Center. You can “check out” a jigsaw puzzle and return it (with all pieces, please!) when you are done. 

            If you would like to donate used puzzles, feel free to give it to your Awakening Center therapist or group leader!  Thank you!  

Amy is the Founder and Director of The Awakening Center, and she loves puzzles of any kind!