No college student needs me to tell them that college is stressful. It’s exhausting, overwhelming, exhilarating, and a million other things all at once. That’s why it’s so important that college students have a space of their own to cool down in, to come back to and relax and decompress in after a long day in class, a big exam, a fight with their roommate, or an overstimulating party. This is where aquariums can come in. In addition to the obvious benefit of housing beautiful fish like the royal gramma and providing a fascinating aquascape to lose yourself in, several scientific studies have found substantive links between keeping an aquarium and people’s mental, emotional, and even physical health. For a stressed college student, a population that often doesn’t have the time or energy to focus on their own wellbeing, these benefits may be especially useful. Read on to find out more about how an aquarium can help turn college from a stress-inducing nightmare to a beautiful undersea dream.
- Watching fish in an aquarium lowers your blood pressure. A 2015 study in Environment and Behavior looked at the effects of time spent in an aquarium on participants’ blood pressure, mood, and general wellbeing. The study showed that even five minutes in an aquarium produced significant drops in blood pressure. The study was building on previous research into the effects of natural biodiversity on people, and its conclusions broadly agreed with previous studies; namely, that time spent in nature (or in close proximity to it, as with an aquarium) is broadly beneficial to people, but these benefits increase the more biodiversity they’re exposed to, even if they aren’t aware of it. For college students, aquariums are one of the best ways to expose themselves to lots of biodiversity in an accessible space, so they can reap the maximum blood pressure-lowering benefits without even leaving their dorms.
- Watching an aquarium also lowers your heart rate. The same 2015 study also found that time in an aquarium lowered participants heart rates significantly. Interestingly, the physical benefits of being in the aquarium peaked within five minutes of participants beginning to watch the tank, but the emotional benefits continued to increase the longer people watched the tank. (Participants in the study watch the tank for 10 minutes at a time.) For college kids who may be pressed for time, it’s good to know that even five minutes a day with their fish can lower their heart rate and stress levels.
- Listening to running water can help relax and soothe people. In general, connecting to nature in any form has been shown to improve people’s mood, mental health, blood pressure, and convey a number of wide-ranging health benefits. Running water, specifically, may supercharge these benefits. Humans have an innate and instinctual draw toward running water, which our ancient instincts tell us is safe to drink and necessary for life. Even in this age of readily available drinking water, that evolutionary connection between running water and a sense of safety is still there.
- Watching a fish tank can be conducive to meditation. If you’re already a convert to the ancient practice of meditation, you’ll be aware of its many health benefits; a 2014 research review found beneficial links between meditation and anxiety, stress, depression, heart health, and chronic pain. Depending on what kind of meditation you choose to practice, watching your fish tank can become a key part of your meditation routine. Some forms of meditation encourage practitioners to focus on an image or object, directing their mental energy away from their own thoughts and onto the chosen point of focus. For some people, the constant gentle motion and activity of a fish tank make it an ideal focus for meditation; it’s slightly more engaging than a still image, making it easier to return your attention to it when your mind starts to wander. Additionally, you may be able to time your breathing to the waving of the plants, the movement of the fish, or even a light or movement on your equipment, helping you achieve the heart health benefits of meditation as well.
- Owning fish may improve cognitive health and mental function. The link here is a little fuzzier than on some of the other benefits, largely because much of the research done on the relationship between people and their pets is focused on more traditional pets, usually cats and dogs. The benefits of companion animals relating to social support, exercise, and cuddling obviously don’t apply to fish; however, there’s no reason to suppose the cognitive benefits relating to caring for another living being don’t. For young people, especially, taking on this responsibility can foster a sense of independence and competence, which then makes it easier for them to apply those traits in other aspects of their life. The simple tasks associated with maintaining a fish tank may also help those struggling with ADHD or depression break out of a paralysis or fog and return to a productive mindset, as well as improving their self-esteem. All of this can lead to increased productivity and even the potential for improved cognitive function.
Stressed college students can improve their mental, physical, and emotional health by watching a fish tank for as little as five minutes a day – and it’s hard for even the busiest undergrad to argue with the appeal of that.