The power of puzzles - a tip for caregivers and anyone else who wants a happier life

Puzzles - I love them and at times hate them, depending on whether they are going well or not. The occassional frustration is worth it though for the satisfaction of completing one. I remember doing wordsearches with my grandmother at bedtime and going to sleep happy. Crosswords have helped while away many journeys for me and number puzzles help me to clear my brain and re-focus.

In our house we compete at puzzles - we'll both do the same one and race to go it done fastest. And winning makes finishing the puzzle even sweeter.

It started when my partner was signed off work with stress and we got a couple of jigsaw puzzles to pass the time, to do something creative, to get that feeling of satisfication when the last piece goes in. I consider myself to have got better value for money from my jigsaws because I took so much longer to them. That's my spin on it anyway.

Then it progressed to picking up newspapers (a copy each) and going straignt to the puzzle pages and the racing began. Before long we were buying 2 copies of puzzle books - the mixed ones gave us variety and introduced us to new varities of puzzles, including number ones like suguru and kakuro. And there are always plenty of the classics like crosswords and soduku to be found.

Why they are so good for you

It turns out that the gentle hobby (turned fierce competition at times) has a lot of benefits. The feeling of satisfaction of completing a puzzle (or even just finding an answer in a tricky crossword) is the brain releasing dopamine; this helps your mood and can help with motivation to do other things. You are also using and develop skills like logic and reasoning, and scientists recommend them for generally working out your brain and preventing long-term memory loss.

They are also portable, you can do them on your own or with someone else, and can be quicker or longer.

How do you feel?

Notice how you feel the next time you do one. How about trying a new type? Not every puzzle suits everyone, so you may want to try more than one kind. What's your favourite puzzle? E-mail me at with the subject “Puzzle” to let me know.

When my in-laws started to need care, I knew how to look after both them and myself – because I’d got it so wrong in the past, when my other half was signed off work with stress and my life was turned upside down too. These blog posts are mostly based on the things that helped me, the lessons I learnt the hard way and what I realise with the benefit of hindsight would have helped. I’ve collected some of the other key learning points and tips and made these available to download at

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