Fish Tank:

Fish Tanks for Relaxation and Stress Relief

by Josh Day

Is there too much stress in your life? Do you want to relax, but you feel like you're too busy to take up a hobby? If this sounds like your life, then you might want to consider a freshwater tropical fish tank for your home.

As a kid, I used to have a couple ten-gallon tanks that had a variety of fish, each aquarium's payload always changing. I actually tried to breed bettas when I was in fifth grade. Like I do with certain things I pick up, I became obsessed... now that I have graduated from college, I am taking up the hobby again.

If you're looking for something to take your mind off work or your busy schedule, look no further than an easy 10-gallon aquarium. You can purchase a ten gallon kit that includes the tank, light (go for fluorescent over incandescent--regular household lights use too much energy and heat up the tank), hood, filter, and oftentimes a net to catch your fish at most Wal-marts and pet stores. I bought mine for $49.95 at a Superpets, so you can probably find one cheaper at a Wal-mart. As a starter's tank, it doesn't have to be top of the line; in fact, it should be cheap as you learn how to cycle the water and care for the fish.

When you set up your tank, let it run for at least two days so the filter can kick out any chlorine your dechlorinating agent didn't get or any other harmful substance in the water. When you go out to buy fish, only buy four small ones (Zebra Danios and livebearers are best to start with because they are hardier--stay away from Tetras and catfish at first). Do not go to Wal-Mart or a large pet store, but instead buy your fish at a store that only sells fish. Their tanks should be crystal clear and the fish should all be active and healthy-looking. If you have a bad feeling about the fish or the place, find another shop.

Float the fish in the bag for twenty minutes, then every ten minutes add 1/4 cup of tank water to the open bag so the fish can get used to the chemical composition of your tank. After 45 minutes to an hour, sink the bag and let the fish swim out on his own accord. (If you do not trust the water from the fish store, however, you should net the fish out of the bag and then slowly lower him into the tank after the acclimatization period.)

As they are small hardy fish, do not feed them until the next day as they likely already ate, and the food would just dirty the water because they are stressed from their journey from the store to your tank.

Wait about a week then get a cory catfish to clean the bottom, then start to fill up your tank with more fish. Ask your fish store clerk for help; they will tell you what kinds of fish go well together.

You will immediately find your stress level dropping as you engage in this hobby and watch your fish swim after a hard day's work.

8/20/04 Update.

My tank is now fully stocked and everything seems to be going well. I have purchased a pH test kit and an ammonia test kit to monitor the acidity of the water as well as the buildup of fish waste Many species of tropical fish require varying degrees of pH so it is hard to say where your level should be. Anything around 7.4 - 6.8 should be ok. I would advise against using pH Up and Down products as they only temporarily change the water and the sudden rise or lowering of pH could stress fish. Instead learn the pH of your water and try to buy fish in that range.

I change out 20-25% of my water once a week with fresh dechlorinated water, adding a few drops of Stresscoat to retain the fishes natural slime coating. Change your filter cartridge once a month or as needed, and vacuum your gravel when the substrate starts to get nasty.

Here are the fish I have right now:

4 neon tetra
2 ghost shrimp
1 female betta

1 whitecloud (enjoys schooling with the tetras)
1 black tetra
1 spotted corycat
1 clown loach

As you can see, it's a crowded tank for a ten gallon aquarium. As a general rule of thumb, you want to stock your tank with 1 inch of fish per gallon. My clown loach is almost two inches, so he makes up for two fish, and my ghost shrimp are half a fish. Overcrowding causes the tank to dirty faster and can stress some fish, especially schoolers.

Research each fish before you purchase one, learning about its pH, temperature, and compatibility. Everyone has a different opinion about fish and tank size, feeding, plants, etc. As long as you come to educated conclusions about your fish, feel free to stock your tank as you desire, and don't let the so-called fish experts get you down! These "ichthyphiles" love throwing out ridiculous, snobbish claims, such as: you should only keep four or five fish in a ten gallon tank, or it's "cruel" to keep a 5-8 inch clown loach in a 29 gallon tank. Bottom line, it's your tank. As long as you don't do anything stupid like putting an oscar in a 10 gallon tank or mixing neon tetras and betas with cichlids, feel free to experiment and explore.

Update 12/27/04

My planted tank on top with my krib cichlid tank belowIt's been a little over four months since my last update, and boy, have I expanded my fish operations. I now maintain 2 ten gallon aquariums, 1 fifty-five gallon tank in the living room, a couple betta jars, 1 five gallon round tank for frogs, and a three gallon guppy tank in the bathroom.

Science has proven that the sound of water is relaxing; the negative ions in running water are believed to reduce harmful airborne bacteria and generally be conducive to a feeling of well-being. In my bedroom, I utilize two Penguin "biowheel" filters which each feature a foamy waterwheel that turns the water as it pours out of the filter and back into the tank. The photo to your right shows the two little ecosystems I have in my bedroom. Can't you just hear the flowing water?

I've moved my clown loach over to the 55 gallon and added three companions for the fish, as clown loaches like to school. The loach joins 2 bala or silver sharks, 1 black ghost knife, a royal pleco, and 2 Discus, the most colorful and majestic of freshwater fish.

If you're looking to relax and relieve stress, once again, I recommend looking into a freshwater aquarium. They are relatively easy to maintain with weekly hourly maintenance, and the sounds of the water and the slow movings of the fish will relax you almost as much as Cat's Purr.

Unlike many hobbies that drain money and time for self-indulgence which oftentimes does nothing for your health or mental well-being, keeping an aquarium will keep you sane when you find the stress building and invading your homelife. I've had many friends and visitors come to my home and remark how "relaxing" my 55 gallon Discus tank is, and how they could just sit back and watch the tank for hours.

Here is a guide to starting a beginner aquarium, with a budget and everything else laid out.

Your First Aquarium

The first object you will need in starting up your miniature aquatic ecosystem is, of course, a tank. The most popular beginner aquarium is the ten gallon. Anything lower will severely limit your options for fish keeping, and anything higher will double in size. Your most common ten gallon is 20" by 10". It will fit most any space.

Before you purchase your tank, be sure you have adequate electrical outlets. You will need at least 3 free outlets for the filter, heater, and light--though a fourth free outlet is recommended in case you want to add a pump for aesthetic bubbles, whose curtain of bubbles is highly, highly relaxing. A power strip with surge protection is recommended, although a simple extension cord with three outlets will do.

You also want to be sure your floor is level. Keep a ruler or measurement tape in handy while you fill your tank with water. If you live in an old house like I do, your aquarium may need to be shimmed. For a 10 gallon tank, a marginal difference of 1/8 to 3/16 inch will be acceptable, although unsightly to the trained eye. Anything more you may want to look into evening out the aquarium with a chunk of wood on the heavy end, with some polystyrene between the tank and stand to prevent bowing of the glass. (Both wood cut to your measurements and polystyrene will be under 5$.)

If you are not using a stand specifically designed to hold your aquarium stand, be sure your surface can hold the weight of your tank. Water adds approximately 9 pounds of weight to the gallon, and gravel and decorations also add more bulk.

A glass ten gallon aquarium is a cheap product. You will never find a ten gallon tank priced at over twenty dollars, and you can find ten gallon kits with filters, lights, and hoods sold at pet store franchises for under fifty dollars.

Let's say you've purchased a kit from Wal-mart, complete with stand, hood, light, and filtration.

5 gallon frog tank, circular.This will run you anywhere from fifty to seventy dollars.

Note: You will also need a heater if you plan on having fish other than goldfish and other cold water species. A 100 watt heater will sufficiently heat a 10 gallon tank.

Now you will need to add substrate, which is the liner that covers the clear bottom of your tank. (Substrate is not necessary, however, and it dirties your water by collecting detritus. However, it is visually pleasing, and it is a good medium for positive bacteria growth, which will be discussed later.)

The best beginner substrate is gravel. Go for a natural looking gravel rather than the neon or brightly covered kind. Also, the finer the better, for your catfish or bottom feeders.

Sand is also a good substrate for freshwater, although it requires more work. Playsand bought at any large hardware or home improvement franchise is very, very cheap, and it is perfect for aquaria. But you must wash it out thoroughly, cleansing it while placed in a bucket with a hose until the water runs clear. Otherwise, your tank will be cloudy, and anaerobic bacteria may form and cause you some severe problems down the road. (Have you ever smelled a mudflat during low tide? It's nasty, and it can be dangerous to your health, and extremely deadly to fish.)

Once the substrate is cleaned and added to the tank, fill it halfway with tap water. Be sure to use a dechlorinator (sold in most kits and all pet stores) to remove the chlorine and chloramine.

Then add your rocks, plastic plants, or other decorations. Plastic plants can be found at any pet store, and rocks and decorations can be found about anywhere, just be sure they are designed for aquarium usage.

Fill the aquarium with water and then wait a few days to purchase some hardy fish, like danios, which are mentioned above.

Your tank will take anywhere from three weeks to a month and a half to fully "cycle" and fill with beneficial nitrobacters, the positive bacteria that eats away the harmful ammonia and nitrite of uneaten food and fish waste. There are products like Biospora that will do this for you without having to cycle your tank, but they can be expensive and are not 100% proven to work.

Once your tank is fully cycled--you'll know when brown algae begins to grow, or you've purchased test kits for ammonia and nitrite and they read zero--you can add your fish and begin your ecosystem. The danios can be given back to the fish store and you can finally begin your real tank.

Here are a few options for a ten gallon aquarium:

  • 8 neon tetras, 1 female betta, 2 black neon tetras, 1 bottom feeder such as a ghost shrimp or an oto "algae-eater" catfish
  • 1 male and 1 female kribensis cichlids
  • 2 male and female convict cichlids
  • Two or three shell dweller African cichlids
  • A peaceful school of assorted tetras and corydoras catfish
  • 1 male and 3 female fancy-tail guppies and some corydoras or otos (livebearers, especially guppies, breed faster than almost any fish; soon your tank will be swarming with guppies)
  • 5-7 dwarf pufferfish (aggressive, like the cichlids listed above, they need a species-only tank)

After a day's work, there is nothing more relaxing than coming home to a fish tank full of lively and colorful fish. To complement the fish, I often employ Cat's Purr, the most relaxing cd this side of the Internet. The visual calm of the fish and the soothing, relaxful sounds of Cat's Purr is enough to relax a Wall Street brokerage exec.

Once you get your tank up and running and fully stocked, you will find your stress level dropping. And you will have discovered a fun, lifelong hobby.

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