5 Ways Aquariums Can Help Take the Stress Out of College Life
Considering a fishy friend for your dorm? Adopting an aquatic pet can help you keep your stress down and your spirits up!
For all of the wonderful things about being a student — and there are many! — there's no denying the experience can be stressful. On top of your academics, you've also got the pressures of new social relationships — plus, for many students, the thrill and anxiety of living away from home for the first time. This all combines to make college uniquely freeing and uniquely stressful.
If you're moving into a new space for the first time, setting up an aquarium can be a great way to make it your own and, as long as the tank is appropriately sized, fill your room with the beautiful sight of swimming fish. (Be sure to use an aquarium volume calculator!)
Beyond just aesthetics, aquarium ownership can also have benefits for your mental and emotional health in five big ways:
1. Watching an aquarium lowers your heart rate and blood pressure
Decades of research has shown that owning a pet has many benefits for your cardiovascular health, lowering your heart rate, blood pressure, cholesterol, and risk of heart disease. Even better, pet owners reap these benefits even from pets, like fish, that don't appreciate a walk around the block.
Aquarium owners get a double shot of these benefits, thanks to the natural environment and biodiversity simulated in their tanks. In 2015, a study by Cracknell and White (PDF) found that simply watching an aquarium for five minutes caused participants' heart rates and blood pressure to plummet.
You might find this quick hit a good way to calm down and centre before a big exam or first date, but if you want to stare at your fish tank for even longer, science says there's a benefit there, too. In the same study, people reaped increased emotional benefits over time, feeling happier and calmer the longer they watched the fish.
2. Caring for an aquarium can help you maintain a routine
Most fish need to be fed at least daily, and should have their tank cleaned and their water changed every week or two. These tasks can help maintain a routine amidst your hectic lifestyle.
According to the American Psychological Association, maintaining a regular routine is so important to people's mental health, it can even help ease symptoms of serious conditions like depression. The sense of order that comes from doing regular chores, like feeding fish or cleaning their tank, can help you focus, clear your mind, and generally be healthier and less stressed.
3. Adopting a pet can alleviate loneliness and feelings of isolation
Fish aren't typically identified as a 'companion animal,' which are more likely to be cats, dogs, rabbits, or something else cuddly and in need of physical affection. However, according to a 2010 research paper by Antonacopoulos and Pychyl, owning a pet can provide similar mental health and stress-relieving benefits, especially to people who live alone.
Owning pets fosters a sense of companionship and interconnectedness that we need to thrive. Since cats and dogs usually aren't allowed in residence and dorms, fish are a great alternative to get your mental health boost — without getting evicted.
4. Aquariums are a great conversation piece and can facilitate connection
Many people form lifelong friendships in college, but it can also be an isolating experience. We know fish can help alleviate loneliness, but keeping an aquarium can also be a great conversation starter and catalyst for connecting with other people.
Talking about your pets and your hobbies can be one of the best ways to get to know new people, and an aquarium is sure to lead to interesting conversations. Even for people who identify as introverts, friendship and human connection is crucial for maintaining good mental, emotional, and physical health.
Friendship improves people's mental and physical resiliency through major life changes — for example, the sometimes-shocking transition to college life. Besides, there's no better stress reliever than a conversation with a good friend!
5. Picking up a new hobby will help you stay busy and fend off boredom
College can be overwhelming, but unless you're loaded up with extracurriculars, you may occasionally find yourself bored. Picking up a new hobby, like caring for a fish tank, offers a way to fill your free time with a regular, mindful activity.
It's hard to be bored while watching a beautiful aquarium! A 2019 study by Perone et al. found that people who are often bored are more likely to experience anxiety and depression, so staying occupied can be a major boost to your mental health and general wellbeing.
College students deal with a lot of stress, and some of their coping mechanisms can be less than ideal. Owning an aquarium is a great way to calm your mind and body, improve your mental and emotional health, and generally survive the stress of college with a smile.
Learn more about caring for fish at home