Opinion | Ditch the iPhone, pick up a puzzle

By Adam Gorcyca, Columnist

From the moment you wake up, you’re bombarded by countless apocalyptic headlines, egotistical influencers and intrusive notifications that won’t stop nagging you.

The stress of this digital overstimulation follows you throughout the day as social media algorithms blow up your phone eager to retain your precious watch time, drawing you back into the panic-inducing world of the internet.

It makes you yearn for a simpler time. A time before the never-ending dopamine binge of social media. A time of puzzles, perhaps.

While it may seem like an awfully simple antidote to the chaos of the world, solving jigsaw puzzles can help reduce stress levels, boost cognitive ability and improve socialization.

Clinical neuropsychologist Dr. Susan Vandermorris says that since puzzles require a certain level of mental engagement, they help us to focus solely on a singular task and separate ourselves from the stressors of the world around us. This isolation from our daily worries and responsibilities gives the brain time to rest and relax.

Get The Daily Illini in your inbox!

  • Catch the latest on University of Illinois news, sports, and more. Delivered every weekday.
  • Stay up to date on all things Illini sports. Delivered every Monday.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.
Thank you for subscribing!

Having a healthy outlet to reduce stress levels is vital as chronic stress can lead to a plethora of mental and physical health risks including anxiety, depression, high blood pressure and heart disease. The urgency to relax has never been higher with record stress levels in America brought on by growing inflation, political division and the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Puzzles may also be the key to keeping your brain as sharp as a tack.

One study found that frequent puzzling in adults fifty and up increased their levels of visual and spatial reasoning. This is because puzzles require you to mentally form hundreds, or even thousands, of tiny individual pictures and shapes into a singular work of art.

The repetitive nature of finding pieces that fit together also reinforces connections between brain cells. The fortified connections improve mental speed and short-term memory, which down the line can battle the effects of dementia.

This excellent brain training is almost completely lost in contemporary forms of entertainment such as YouTube, TikTok and Instagram, which allow users to take off their thinking hats and disengage.

Ironically enough, a form of entertainment that can trace its history back to the 18th century, when most people were isolated from their neighbors by acres of farmland, is a greater social activity than using social media.

The social development gifted by jigsaw puzzles can start at a very young age. Since puzzles allow for cooperative play focused on a shared goal, they help children up to eight years old develop group problem-solving and cooperation skills.

But the social benefits of puzzles don’t end with third graders.

Puzzles are a great platform for social interaction for everyone because they create a shared space and experience. Since all puzzlers are focused on the same goal of finishing the puzzle, people are pushed to talk to one another throughout the hours it takes to put it together. Puzzles also grab all participants’ attention to a central location which forces eye contact and close proximity. 

Jigsaw puzzles’ mass appeal makes them particularly inviting as a social activity. They sit in a Goldilocks zone of difficulty that can attract all ages and skill levels. Whether you’re an 80-year-old puzzling pro or a 12-year-old novice, anyone can enjoy a puzzle.

This socialization between ages is important for closing the generational gap of knowledge and culture that has been amplified with the mass adoption of internet culture amongst the youth. 

Life can be daunting sometimes. Expectations from work, family and friends can pile up and leave us feeling behind the eight ball. 

So take a load off, pull out that dusty puzzle from your closet and figure it out one piece at a time.


Adam is a sophomore in LAS.

[email protected]