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Does Having an Aquarium Decrease Stress?

By: Alex Lieber

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For millions of Americans, long hours, too much coffee and a frenetic work pace are the norm, not to mention the added stress of war, a struggling economy and terrorism alerts.

What's a good, healthy way to soothe your jangled nerves?

One proven way is to prop your feet up and watch your fish swim serenely through your aquarium. Research has found that pets calm nerves and lower blood pressure. And aquariums particularly seem to have a soothing effect. In fact, many doctor offices keep aquariums in the waiting room. Watching fish swim to and fro lowers the stress of waiting to be examined.

Research buttressed what many fish enthusiasts already know: the therapeutic benefits of aquariums. In 1999, a study showed that displaying tanks of brightly colored fish curtailed disruptive behaviors of Alzheimer patients. The fish were also credited with improving eating habits. Other studies also showed that fish calmed children diagnosed with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

In general, pets have been shown to reduce stress and boost emotional well-being, even during tough times. When Jerry Greider lost his job and spent three months looking for work, it was a rough period in his life. "I spent a lot of time going on job interviews and sending out resumes, with nothing panning out," the Seattle resident recalls. "Some days, the only thing that kept me smiling was my dog licking my face and wagging his tail. And often that was just what it took to put me in a positive frame-of-mind before an interview."

Rachel Rushing, of Indianapolis, Ind., says when she's fighting the blahs, all she has to do is watch her three kittens playing together. "They like to jump in and out of paper bags and hide behind furniture, as if they're playing a game of hide-and-seek with each other," she says. "It's really entertaining. If I'm having a bad day, I can't help but feel cheered up watching them play."

Then there are the documented health benefits of pet ownership. Many studies have proven the link between a healthier, longer life and pet ownership. Though the studies have largely focused on the effects of dogs and cats, other species provide benefits as well. Keeping a pet can give you a sense of purpose and the feeling of being needed, a feeling that is especially important for people who live alone.

And coming home to your family, whether you have one pet or many, gives you something to look forward to.

"Watching your pet's silly antics can make you laugh and help relieve stress," says David Frei, spokesperson for the Delta Society, a nonprofit organization interested in relationships between people and animals. "Pets take away the tension that's in your daily life, whether it's for work or family-related problems. When you see a dog looking at you with his big, brown adoring eyes, that brings a certain relaxation to people."

Decreased Feeling of Loneliness

Pets decrease feelings of loneliness and isolation, explains Alan Beck, Ph.D., director of the Center for Human-Animal Bond at the School of Veterinary Medicine at Purdue University. "A pet is someone to share your life with," he says. "There's a lot of people in this world who live alone. As a society, many of us live in apartments in big cities. We may not know our neighbors. We may be separated geographically from our extended families. Maybe we're divorced or widowed and live alone. And so for people in these circumstance, pets can help fill the 'people void' in their lives."

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