It’s 8 o’clock on a Monday morning, and you walk through the doors of Severinghaus Library. Half awake, still rubbing the sleep out of your eyes, you greet whoever happens to be at the front desk. Thinking of ways to prepare yourself for the coming day, you face a choice: Ms. Stinson’s Mindfulness Club or the jigsaw puzzle, whose pieces are strewn about the countertop of the library’s long counter.
Mindfulness is the act of bringing one’s full attention to a certain activity or object of choice. For example, when doing breathwork and meditations, the goal is to bring full attention to the breath. But, if you are someone who cannot sit still and take deep breaths, mindfulness can take a different form. If you want to be engaged in an activity that requires focus and concentration, yet still moving around, the library jigsaw puzzle might be for you.
While mindfulness and working on a jigsaw puzzle may seem like different activities, they have a similar effect on the mind. Depending on the type of person you are, time can fly by while doing either activity.
When doing puzzles, the brain enters a mindful state and often loses track of time.
When doing puzzles, the brain enters a mindful state and often loses track of time. Often, I’ll look up thinking 30 minutes have gone by, when, in reality, it was two hours. I spend rainy days in the back room of my house, tucked away in a corner of jigsaw puzzles and podcasts.
In addition to their calming effect, doing puzzles releases small doses of dopamine with every match made. This dopamine release can be addictive, driving people to spend all night working on a puzzle.
Studies have shown that while searching for pieces across the table, the process of making matches strengthens short-term memory. The act of doing puzzles engages both sides of the brain at once.
Puzzles also build spatial awareness by helping the brain understand and learn to fit certain oddly shaped things into a compact shape.
Puzzles also build spatial awareness by helping the brain understand and learn to fit certain oddly shaped things into a compact shape. When a puzzle comes down to the final act, the only distinguishing features can be the texture of the piece itself along with tiny smidgens of color in its corner or the shape of the actual piece.
As Sixth Former Joey Kauffman recently noted in his upper school reflection, many students feel much pressure to succeed in school. This pressure can result in high levels of anxiety and depression. Often, students find themselves with little free time and a lack of sleep. One way to counteract this academic pressure is for students to take time out of their day to do things that make them happy, make them feel relaxed, thereby decreasing anxiety levels.
The next time you see the library puzzle in disarray, pieces strewn all over the table, don’t just walk by. Take a few minutes to put a few pieces together. Those pieces might not seem like much, but they may turn out to be just the outlet for your academic stress and pressures.