Since we are in the midst of the holiday season, we are all familiar with how the family get-togethers, shopping, and hustle and bustle can be both stress-relieving in some ways and also stress-inducing. I have come to realize that I have the same thoughts about this hobby.
As numerous studies have shown, having an aquarium can be stress relieving in a lot of ways. Having a tank has been found to lower blood pressure in some people. Watching the fish swim back and forth has been found to be hypnotic to some, reducing their anxiety and simply calming their nerves and helping them to relax. This is why you often see an aquarium in a doctor’s or dentist’s office or in a law office.
These places are by their very nature stress-inducing, so having a fish tank in place to calm the nerves of the visitors makes sense. It makes sense for the patients and clients as it calms their nerves, and it makes sense for the owners as it is far easier to deal with a calm individual than it is someone on edge. In addition to these reasons, and why having a tank is good in a healthcare situation, there has even been a study showing that having a fish tank helps with both physical and mental health.
This study even suggested that people who worked on and around aquariums will see an improvement in their health and mood. This ability of an aquarium to reduce sense and provide a sense of well-being has even been postulated as to being one of the reasons why it may be so addicting to some. Everyone likes to feel serene, and in a lot of instances, an aquarium does provide that feeling.
Another potential reason why a fish tank and especially a reef tank can help alleviate stress is because an aquarium filled with a diverse range of creatures can act as a distraction. That is, the uniqueness of a reef tank and its denizens is markedly different from what one normally encounters. As a result, a focus on this can help to distract away from the stressors that are causing anxiety or reducing the sense of well-being. This also may help to account for why continually adding new fish or coral is critical to some hobbyists as it further helps to add to this distractive aspect of the hobby.
Personally, I have spent many hours sitting in front of my tanks over the years, just watching the interaction of the fish and corals. Invariably in the warm atmosphere surrounding the tank with the sound of water moving and the fish ballet going on within the tank, invariably sleep is induced. As I have gotten older, and falling asleep has become more difficult at times, I employ this tactic to help with relaxation and to induce sleep.
During my career in oncology sales, there was a significant amount of stress for various reasons, as there is in most jobs. When I was especially stressed, I would try to do a big project in one of my tanks as I found it helped me to relax. Whether it was re-aquascaping the live rock, or gluing in a bunch of frags or adding a new piece of equipment, or even just doing a big water change, they all worked to clear my mind of the stress from work and helped me to relax. To this day when I feel especially stressed, I still find working on one of my tanks helps me to reduce my anxiety and sense of worry.
Conversely, as some hobbyists have noted and as I have felt at times too, the hobby and having a reef tank, can also be stress-inducing, and sometimes in a major way. There are a number of reasons why this stress can occur, and fortunately, in most instances the problem can be solved and the stress can be reduced to some degree. The first and biggest cause of stress to us, in my opinion, is the death or deaths of fish or corals.
While a death of a fish or coral for any reason is stressful, it is my experience that when the death is unexplained it is more stressful than when it can be explained. Such as if a favorite fish jumps out of a tank, we kick ourselves for leaving a hole where this could occur, and we fix it. Or if we lose fish due to a disease like Ick or even Uronema, we figure out what is happening and work from there. But if we lose a fish for seemingly no reason or if corals die seemingly randomly without a cause it is very stressful.
The thing that needs to be understood is that fish and corals do not die without reason. There are no known cases of fish suicide, jumping out of the tank notwithstanding. If we cannot figure out why something died, the reason is just evading us, and this can be stressful. What we need to do is take a step back, look first for any changes or additions we made before the deaths occurred, and start from there. Then do testing including ICP testing and if all of this fails to show something assume it is a pathogen or bacteria causing the problem. Regardless of what it is, we can’t let the stress of the situation cause us to be rushed or to make impulsive decisions, as odds are that these will make things worse, and our stress level will rise as a result.
This leads to another cause of stress that is made worse if we try to correct things too quickly and that is chasing numbers. Literally everyone in this hobby will at one time or another run a test or take a measurement and find the number way out of whack. Phosphate can be too high, alkalinity too low or pH in the danger zone. When we see this, we tend to get stressed very quickly and as a result, try to bring the number back to where it should be quickly. In this instance, we should let the stress of the situation sway to act to change things quickly.
Instead, we need to understand that the value did not get to this level overnight, it took time, and during this time the corals adapted and tolerated the off value. So when we are bringing the number back to where we want it we should take a similar approach and adjust things slowly to allow the corals to further adapt to these new numbers. While we may feel stressed until the parameter is back in the desired range, we should not let the stress of the situation sway how we respond.
After having done this for almost forty years, I have had my share of stress induced by the hobby. In the early years, it was due to a lack of knowledge and understanding the coral’s requirements. It was also from the fear that if a coral was lost, chances were that it would be difficult to replace a coral as there just were not that many around. Today the concern is somewhat different in that many of the corals I seek are offered by various vendors or friends have them, and is not really the issue that stresses me.
I now feel more responsible for keeping the fish and corals in my tank alive, as the knowledge to do so is readily available. However, there is now another factor that also induces stress and that is the cost of the animals. Now that some corals cost the same as a home appliance, there is more stress to keep these corals alive and growing. Because of this, there may be a new reason why some feel this hobby has become more stress-inducing.
This feeling of induced stress may also work in the opposite way in that when we are stressed the thought is that if one does something they can alleviate the stress. For a reef tank this is the wrong philosophy, in that stability is the key rather than constant tinkering. But in order to try and reduce the stress they feel about their tank, even though it is doing well or thriving, they feel a need to constantly make adjustments because in their mind this is necessary in order for the tank to be successful.
Then when this results in the tank suffering, their stress level goes up further and they make even more changes. I have seen numerous hobbyists take this approach when they felt stressed, often when the tank was not even involved, and the results for the tank were not good. For this reason, it should be understood that rarely will making multiple adjustments help the tank or help reduce our stress level.
As everyone knows who keeps a reef tank, when the tank is thriving and the fish and corals are growing and colorful, home life is good, and we feel relaxed. But when things die or even just don’t look quite right, it really does stress most of us and until things improve, we feel down and stressed. I have asked many hobbyists if this is how they feel, and the majority have agreed that this is indeed the case. For those of us who have devoted a large portion of our lives, our time and money to having reef tanks, this has been the case for as long as we have been in the hobby.
Not to be funny, but the key then to having a tank be relaxing is simple: just make sure that the tank thrives and stress will go away. If only it were that simple.