Life in Pieces: Jigsaw Puzzles!

For all those in #lockdown and practicing #socialdistancing AND complaining that you are running out of things to watch on Netflix, or simply going stir crazy at home: my daughter revived an old family activity that I had buried deep down for many years. She suggested that we work on a jigsaw puzzle, that it had been far too long since we had last done so. I agreed immediately and two days ago our home was graced with a 3000-piece puzzle. Wow, the pieces are small and in the beginning it seems all very overwhelming when you dump everything on the table.

Let me backtrack a bit here – I have been a jigsaw puzzle fan since my childhood, and it was one of few activities I shared with my father were we didn’t argue over procedure or compete for the best results. I inherited his disciplined approach to large puzzles, sorting out the edges first, then sorting out the rest of the pieces into coloured piles before you start the assembly. Once the preliminary work is done then you can go about the puzzle in a more relaxed manner. Anyone who attempts to tackle a puzzle larger than 2000 pieces without a plan is asking for hours and days of stress.

Putting the pieces back together II ©FrogDiva Photography

The second secret to enjoying puzzles is not to rush through it. I find puzzles very relaxing and meditative, so when my daughter asked me what my favourite part of the jigsaw puzzle process is I blurted out “the silence”. You can work on it in silence, but still feel very connected to one another, or have music in the background, or even a movie. Today we opted for jazz and a purring cat.

Third, you need the space where you can leave the puzzle undisturbed and anyone is free to pass by and work on it in their own time. This is brilliant for those with insomnia! Prior to starting on the puzzle (rather, before we had even decided on the puzzle), we re-arranged the entire apartment for a very different reason. So when we needed to free up the large coffee table for the puzzle it was no problem at all. I am not as obsessed as some families we encountered before, who logged every step or accomplishment, or even the visitors who drop in to add a piece to the puzzle! Nor would I go out of my way to purchase a rotating board for it either.

Interfering cats? Well, neither of my felines know what a puzzle is and can’t be bothered to “help” or meddle. There are other families with the opposite problem though, and the cat(s) pushed off days (weeks) of puzzle work with the swoosh of a tail or an obstinate paw. At 15, Lolita is too far advanced with her Cognitive Disfunction Syndrome (CDS, aka feline dementia) to even bother, and Cherry would rather soak up the sun outdoors!

According to psychologists, the top mental health benefits of jigsaw puzzles are:

  1. Mindfulness and stress-relief
  2. Time away from screens, ergo internet
  3. Improves short-term memory
  4. Improved dexterity
  5. Reduced risk of dementia
  6. Enhanced cognitive abilities
  7. Improve problem-solving skills
  8. Satisfaction and accomplishment
  9. Socialisation

And I can certainly vouch for 1-8. For point #9 I would argue that you need the right partner, or group mates to undertake a jigsaw puzzle with. Like-minded people are the key to enjoying this. On the other hand, doing a jigsaw puzzle alone has a particular charm, and if I weren’t so invested in writing or photography I would probably spend more time on them.

Furthermore, for someone dealing with PTSD or ADD, jigsaw puzzles are one of the best activities to undertake, as it forces the person to focus on entirely on the activity without inducing stress. My daughter has been dealing with ADD for years, so this is something soothing to her nerves and helps her focus, giving her a visible and tangible sense of accomplishment. The sense of equilibrium is more important than ever to her during this trying time when she has had to put her life on hold, escape Florence, and still work towards submitting all the requirements for uni.

For once, I am not afraid of all the scattered pieces! Before I end, can I just say that I much prefer the Spanish term for jigsaw puzzles rompecabezas literally meaning head breaker!

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