Q&A with Emma Kenny

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Positively Puzzling celebrates all the wonderful plusses about jigsaws.

From fun family times together to long term health benefits and day-to-day mindful moments, there are so many positives about the humble puzzle!

We caught up with TV psychologist, Emma Kenny, to find out more about mindful practices and how putting together those pieces can play a part.

About Emma Kenny

Emma Kenny is a psychologist, TV presenter and writer and is recognised as one of the UK’s leading TV psychological experts. She is perhaps best known for her role as resident psychologist on ITV’s This Morning.

Emma is also BBC Radio 1’s resident Life Hack expert as well as making regular contributions to a variety of press such as her popular weekly column in Closer Magazine.

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness involves a non-judgemental awareness of the present moment; the practice aims to fully connect you to the here and now. Many of us live our lives in the future, worrying about things that have never, and may never happen. Mindfulness plugs you into the present, offering you the gift of living fully within it.

What are the benefits of mindfulness?

Mindfulness has many benefits, including a reduction in your levels of stress and anxiety, a deep appreciation for the life you have been given the chance to experience, and a powerful opportunity to slow your pace of life down. Mindfulness has been proven to help relieve stress, lower blood pressure, reduce chronic pain, improve sleep and alleviate chronic gastrointestinal difficulties.

How can doing jigsaws play a part in mindfulness?

There are two types of mindful practice – formal and informal. Formalised mindfulness involves activities like yoga or meditation but informal, which is equally as effective involves activities such as gardening, walking with nature, colouring and puzzles. Because puzzling involves connecting to and concentrating on the present moment, it is a powerful medium that brings you to the here and now. Aside from enabling you to feel a sense of peace, and offer time out from the wider world, the enjoyment and pride received from working on, and eventually completing a puzzle means that you feel a sense of gratitude and accomplishment which is excellent for self-esteem and wellbeing.

Imagine you are doing a 1000 piece puzzle. Your attention is focused on the shapes of the pieces, the picture you are building, and you are using your senses of touch and sight to help with your strategy. You are living in the moment, utterly absorbed in the present activity. Time seems to fall away and it is simply you and your puzzle and nothing else seems to matter. That complete immersion in an activity is you switching off from day to day stresses and switching on to ‘self’ time and that calmness is amazing for mental health.

More and more adults are taking up puzzling, why do you think that is?

The explosion of social media and online games in the past twenty years has been a huge attraction for many people. While the cyber world is a fantastic place, it is also one that, at times, can add to the stresses and strains of everyday life. As people have grown used to having this access, they have also become more discerning about what they feel is lacking in their lives. They are looking for good value, effective activities that help them to completely unwind and that make the digital detoxing feel more worthwhile.

Human beings need time out to full reconnect with the self. Being able to sit with a cuppa and enjoy a puzzle allows just that.

Are there other benefits to jigsaws in addition to mindfulness?

As a race, humans are living longer than ever and while this has some really fantastic benefits, it also means we need more than ever to keep our brains fit and healthy. Just as you might go to the gym to keep your body fit, so too should you go out of your way to take your brain for a regular work out. This is where puzzles are fantastic.

A recent clinical study from Ravensburger and the University of Ulm, the Jigsaw Puzzle Study (Fissler 2018), found that those people who has solved jigsaws regularly maintained higher cognitive abilities that those who didn’t. This research matters because it means that as your brain degenerates through age, you actively slow this down.

What is your experience with puzzles?

I feel that I am very lucky because when I was growing up, my aunty bought me a puzzle every Christmas and birthday. As money was very tight for my family as a child, I spent hours doing and redoing these puzzles. It’s an activity I still enjoy today. I’ve recently completed a 1000 piece Home for Christmas puzzle and putting the pieces together is still as satisfying today as it was when I was a child.

Any tips for someone starting out in puzzling?

Ease yourself into them. When you learn a new language you don’t sign up for a degree straightaway as it would be overwhelming and the activity wouldn’t be enjoyable. Choose a puzzle that is challenging enough but not over complex. Look for smaller piece counts. I always divide my pieces into colours and place all them all face up.

Enjoy a mindful moment with puzzles

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A few puzzles to enjoy a mindful moment with...

Positively Puzzling for children

A puzzle is just the start!

Jigsaws are not just a fun diversion, they’re a great way to help kids develop essential skills and it’s even better if you join in too. Below you can find out about some of the benefits of puzzling for kids, and ideas on getting creative and extending the play too!

Did you know?

Children jigsaws puzzles can offer a wealth of benefits when it comes to developing essential skills.

Hand-eye co-ordination
As children manipulate the pieces, they’re developing valuable manual dexterity skills.

Problem Solving and concentration skills
A puzzle is not an ‘instant fix’. Children need to think through problems and solve them with persistence and patience.

I can do this!
Completing a jigsaw or simply putting a piece in the right spot gives a great confidence boost and sense of ‘I can do this’.

Language skills
Puzzles are a great opportunity to practice language skills. As you put the puzzle together talk about colours, shapes and pictures.

Use the opportunity of a jigsaw to encourage children to think about what is happening in the scene, what might happen next and more?

Colour and shape recognition
In putting together a jigsaw, children are practicing searching for matching colours and shapes as they look for the correct piece to place.
"Children benefit because puzzles are a goal that they can complete, as well as being fun, and this cultivates patience, a trait that has a huge amount of benefit and means that children can reap the rewards of sticking to a task and feeling rewarded by the fruits of their labour." Emma Kenny

The fun does not end when the last piece goes in!

Now that the puzzle is finished, why not take inspiration from the pictures and characters within and ask your child to imagine a story around the characters. Talk about what has happened, and what might happen next? Puzzles can be great conversation starters.

What about challenging your child to design a puzzle of their own?
Simply ask them to draw a picture which they can then cut into large pieces for the family to put back together again. A puzzle should bring on a smile, so ask them to draw a picture of something that makes them happy.

This is exactly what Joy did and this is her puzzle design. Joy’s jigsaw design includes one of her favourite animals – tigers. Can you spot the tiny chameleon? Use hashtag #AtHomewithRavensburger – we would love to see their creations. Thanks to Joy for sharing her picture.

Puzzle Design Tip! Try to include lots of different colours and objects, some big some small, all around the picture so it’s really interesting to look at, and also not too hard to put back together!

A Poem about Puzzles

by Charlotte Bird

A puzzle won’t cure your worries
But give you pause for thought
To take time out from busy days
And doing what you ‘ought’.
‘Must’ and ‘Should’ no time for these
When lost among the parts,
For time spent in the here and now
Can lift a troubled heart.

Among the scattered pieces
There a bigger picture lies,
Awaiting its discovery
Unlocking the surprise.
The final piece, what magic!
And where did that time go?
Time flies when you’re having fun,
And a jigsaw makes it so.

Here are some other articles you might find interesting

Why doing puzzles makes you happy

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Intriguing puzzle facts

How a puzzle is created

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