clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Puzzles can help with depression and anxiety

Keep your mind occupied during a stressful time

Francisca Perez, 84, rearranges puzzle pieces.
Francisca Perez, 84, rearranges puzzle pieces, a part of her regular exercise to recover from rheumatoid arthritis, Wednesday, June 30, 2021, in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood.
Shafkat Anowar, Associated Press

The pandemic infused in all of us a fear of disease and death, and the gloom from isolation.

Over 40% of people surveyed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2020 reported struggling with mental and behavioral health problems during the pandemic.

During these challenging times, many welcomed activities that could take away this sense of doom and gloom — including puzzles.

Harsh Goyal, a dog training blogger and Rubix cube aficionado based in Delhi, India, turned to puzzles amid the stress and anxiety of last year’s lockdowns, according to Wired.

“The eagerness to connect those dots is so strong that you get lost entirely in it,” he told Wired. “So even if I am sad, angry, or disgusted before starting any puzzle, I always end up in a satisfactory mood after the puzzle is completed.”

Puzzles can help refocus your mind while stimulating it by requiring you to use your problem-solving skills and exercise your creativity. In turn, they distract you from stressful situations.

“If you can do a puzzle that’s still within your cognitive ability, it kind of gives you a little boost,” said game developer Simon Joslin told Wired. It can help us feel capable, smart and productive. “When we are that depressed, that is actually quite a good thing.”

Mindfulness can often help steady the mind and body but it doesn’t offer the elegant solutions that puzzles often do.

And experts agree. Dr. Carmen Russoniello, director of the ECU Psychophysiology Lab and Biofeedback Clinic, who oversaw a recent study about puzzles, said there’s an “intrinsic value of certain casual games in terms of significant, positive effects on the moods and anxiety levels of people suffering from any level of depression.”

One health care worker concluded the same thing — “Putting a jigsaw puzzle together has many health benefits and can help reduce stress and improve memory.”

In fact, studies show that puzzling stimulates the brain and can reduce the chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease, memory loss and dementia, per South Mountain Memory Care. In one of the studies, brain scans of people who puzzled between the ages of 25 to 75 were compared. The results showed brain scans of the elderly matched up to those who were 25 years old.

Dr. Michael E. DeBakey, who is in the department of surgery, said he feels that he can leave all the stress behind him while he dives into “a beautiful mountain scene or a picture of cute puppies or kittens.”

Not only that, puzzles can often be a great way to connect with friends and family. The shared challenge and accomplishment is a relaxing way to bond, which makes it a great team-building exercise.

The low stakes, a sense of nostalgia, and the game’s incentives combined with the challenge that requires analytical skills is ideal for a gamer who struggled during the day.

It’s not just puzzling that can improve your mood. Games can, too. If you choose to play games like the crossword, then there are educational benefits as you’re developing a great vocabulary, and improving in research, spelling and language skills, according to OPTML, a health and wellness company.

Scrabble is another great option that involves social interaction in addition to a range of skills, per Men’s Health. And it has the ability to increase your IQ, too.

And if your cup of tea is a first-person video game, that has its benefits too. A study by the University of Rochester revealed that video games can enhance visual awareness in the real world, in addition to improving IQ and problem-solving skills and acting as a stress buster.