The Art of Fishkeeping: How Aquariums Reduce Stress

Studies show animals are good for your mental health, but fish keeping offers some unique benefits.

May 24, 2024By Maya Keith
art of fishkeeping how aquariums reduce stress

Even the best of us have our off days, and stress seems to rear its head at the most inconvenient times. In the modern world, finding ways to reduce this stress can be far and few between, not to mention unattainable.

For many, something as simple as setting up a fish tank can make a major difference in their daily life. While fish can’t offer the same companionship as a dog, fishkeeping boasts plenty of benefits to physical and mental health.

Keep reading as we explore how watching aquariums reduces stress!

Fish-Filled Aquariums Can Cause Physiological Responses

small amateur fish tank
User Aleš Tošovský, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Stress is not a figment of our imagination; it’s a physical and mental manifestation of the harmful conditions imposed on our body. It is only when we are relieved of these conditions that we can actually tackle the damage that stress causes.

Aquariums can do just that.

In a study published by SAGE publications, researchers from California Academy of Sciences, the National Marine Aquarium, Plymouth University, and the University of Exeter Medical School examined behavioral, physiological, and psychological responses to aquariums with varying levels of marine life inside (i.e. an empty take, a half-stocked tank, and a fully-stocked tank).

The general results suggested that interaction with any of the tanks decreased both blood pressure and heart rate while increasing mood and interest. Furthermore, these results were much greater under the tanks with a greater population of fish.

Because blood pressure and heart rate have such a major impact on how your body processes strong emotions, being able to manipulate them is a step in the right direction. Sitting down and watching fish swim around for a few minutes may seem like an insignificant therapy, but it can make stress much more manageable.

Aquarium Sights and Sounds are Soothing and Hypnotic

aquarium tunnel
Image Credit: pfly from Pugetopolis, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Aquariums have plenty of soothing elements. The soft sound of moving water is so effective that it’s often used in white noise machines or applications, and fish racing back and forth have a hypnotic appeal.

It’s for this reason that fish tanks are so common in doctors' offices, dentist’s offices, and other areas where anxiety is prevalent.

Dr. Ran D. Anbar keeps two 225 gallon tanks in the waiting room of his office to calm his pediatric patients prior to their hypnosis or counseling appointments.

Furthermore, this study by the Center for Human-Animal Interaction examined the effects an aquarium had prior to the treatment of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) patience. On average, the patients reported 12 percent less anxiety with the aquarium. Again, the study found that the benefits were greater with more fish in the tank.

You don’t need a giant tank either. Betta fish offer plenty of visuals, whether you keep them on their own or with a safe companion. Even a small fish tank can make a difference.

Aquariums Facilitate a Greater Perception of Relaxation and Mood

okinawa aquarium
Image Credit: Jordy Meow, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Studies that evaluate stress relief rely heavily on self-reporting regarding details such as mood or anxiety.

This study out of the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health doesn’t share the claim that fish tanks have a positive impact on heart rate, but it does note that perceptions of mood, relaxation, and anxiety improved after participants watched fish tanks for 5 minutes. It also notes that the results following the tank with fish were greater than those of the fishless tank.

In a review of 19 studies on the psychological and physiological benefits of interacting with fish in aquariums, researchers noted that the results showed positive potential. While they suggested further dedicated research on the subject, they noted that there is evidence of improved mood.

Aquarium Care Requires You to Slow Down and Pay Attention

betta fish breeder
Image Credit: Pariskanza, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Our lives are busier now more than ever, and it can be difficult to stop and smell the roses. For some, putting a fish tank in your bedroom or living room is more accessible than a rosebush could ever be, and it can serve as a constant reminder to slow down and take care of your mental health.

Unlike other animals like cats and dogs, fish are fairly hands-off. Instead of asking you to accommodate their unique needs, fish fit nicely into most lifestyles and only ask that you slow down to tackle more menial tasks, repaying you with their simplicity.

Many studies already show the benefits of mindfulness, a medication practice in which you focus on this exact moment. Setting up a fish tank or even visiting your local aquarium can help you practice this technique, forcing you to pay attention to the environment with all of your senses and encouraging you to live in the moment.

The Cycle Keeps Going

georgia aquarium giant grouper
Image Credit: Diliff, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

These benefits immediately impact your perception of stress, but they also pave the way for decreased stress levels in the future.

By facilitating a calming environment, fish tanks also increase productivity. They allow you to focus more easily on tasks you may have at hand, like work or school, alleviating and potentially reducing your workload.

Because you have less stress in the moment, you’re able to do more with your time and reduce the opportunity for stress in the future.

And thus, just like the flow of water, the cycle keeps on going!

Maya Keith
By Maya Keith

Maya is a lifelong animal lover. While she switched from studying veterinary medicine to English, she continues to help by fostering animals in her community. Her permanent residents include 3 dogs, 2 cats, 5 quail, 19 chickens, and a small colony of Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches.