Since Covid-19 made its entrance on the world’s stage in early 2020, many things have changed. To curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, the new normal now means interactions between individuals take place virtually. Where we once attended in-person meetings, classes and webinars, social interactions now happen via a video conference call. Even family gatherings are experienced sitting in front of computer screens. All this screen time has led to a rapidly increasing problem, Zoom fatigue or Zoom burnout, named after the popular video conferencing software.
Are you feeling exhausted after your Zoom meetings? You're not alone. Many people are experiencing Zoom fatigue due to the increased use of video conferencing. But why? Shouldn’t Zoom meetings be more convenient and easier to attend? Zoom fatigue not only leaves you feeling drained, but it can also affect your focus, learning, and even your mental health.
What is Zoom Fatigue?
You haven’t had to battle traffic, and because you work or attend school at home, you haven’t had a steady stream of people coming in and out of your space. Yet, when you’ve finished your last Zoom call for the day, you find yourself completely exhausted. What’s up with that?
You could be suffering from Zoom fatigue, also referred to as virtual fatigue or Zoom exhaustion. You’re not alone. Zoom fatigue is the feeling of exhaustion that you experience following a video conference call. Zoom fatigue has become so common, in fact, that researchers from Stanford and other organizations are beginning to study the psychological effects it has on people.
In a recent interview with Health, Dr. Brian Wind, co-chair of the American Psychological Association and adjunct professor in Vanderbilt University’s psychology department had this to say, “When we’re on Zoom ... the brain has to work overtime to process information. It isn’t picking up the social cues it’s used to identifying [like hand movements, body movements and even a person’s energy]. This places stress on the mind and uses up a lot of energy.”
Diana Concannon, PsyD, psychologist and dean of the California School of Forensic Studies at Alliant International University shares this about seeing ourselves onscreen, it “creates a feeling of being on stage and is often accompanied by a compulsion to perform, which requires more energy than a simple interaction.”
In short, Zoom fatigue is a general feeling of mental fatigue and exhaustion caused by video conferencing. If you’re in front of the camera all day or required to take part in multiple video calls each day, it will ultimately take its toll on you and your mental stamina.
Who is affected by Zoom Fatigue?
Although both men and women can be affected by Zoom fatigue, a recent study found that women generally experience more Zoom fatigue than men, even after controlling many different variables. Why?
The main reason is that women experience more mirror anxiety when seeing themselves on the monitor for extended periods of time.
Several conditions increase the occurrence and effects of Zoom fatigue for both men and women:
- How often each day or week video interaction is required
- Length of video interaction
- Less time between video interactions
What Are the Symptoms of Zoom Fatigue?
Since Zoom fatigue is a form of burnout and mental fatigue, it shares many of the same symptoms. Although symptoms vary between individuals, the most common symptoms of Zoom fatigue include:
- Feelings of exhaustion and/or burnout
- Forgetfulness and concentration difficulties
- Lack of motivation
- Frustration and irritability
- Social detachment and difficulty maintaining relationships
- Headaches or migraines
- Low productivity
- Physical symptoms such as pain and muscle tension
Individuals with pre-existing mental health issues or those coping with large amounts of stress often experience more of these symptoms and experience them to a greater degree.
How Can You Combat Zoom Fatigue?
Like it or not, video calls and conferencing may be the new norm; therefore, what can you do to combat the effects of zoom fatigue?
1. Take back control of your life.
When you’re able, permit yourself to “miss” a video conference. Some video meetings or classes will require your virtual attendance, others ... maybe not so much. Or perhaps, you can watch a recording of the video later.
For times when you find you must take part in video sessions, be sure to take breaks as often as possible.
2. Turn off video when audio will work just as well.
There is a transition that takes place when one travels from home to work/school, going from casual to professional. Working or attending class from home puts a different kind of pressure on you when it comes to video calls. There is a required “professionalism” which causes undue stress when one feels they must find a proper background space and tidy that environment up to make things appear more put together. This is especially stressful when meetings or group project sessions are scheduled spontaneously.
Besides an expectation of professionalism and the need to tidy up, video calls may also make you feel as though you need to force a continual smile.
Turning off the screen also allows you to multitask and use your time more effectively. Additionally, without the video component, you don’t have the pressure of appearing a certain way, and you aren’t constantly viewing and evaluating yourself on the little video screen.
If an audio call will suffice and you can turn off the camera at times, do it!
3. Schedule fun Zoom meetings too.
With all these expectations, video conferencing may begin to result in negative feelings, causing you to dread class or an upcoming meeting. Therefore, don’t forget to use video conferencing for fun, as well, to weaken the negative emotions associated with it. Use it to maintain connections with family and friends, learn a new hobby or watch a movie with your best friend. With so much isolation, these times of special connections are important.
4. Find ways to reduce stress.
Look for ongoing ways to reduce stress in your life. This could include:
- Exercise regularly, doing such activities as running, hiking, yoga or tai chi
- Practice relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and mindfulness meditation
- Stop using tobacco and nicotine products
- Set realistic goals and expectations
Other ways to combat Zoom fatigue.
Here are a few other things you can do to fight Zoom fatigue.
- If you’re able to control your video conferencing schedule, determine what works best for you. Maybe all Zoom meetings or classes can take place at the beginning of the day or week. Or maybe it’s best for you if the video interactions can be scheduled throughout the week, a few each day.
- Create and stick to scheduling boundaries with carefully defined times for video meetings and video group projects. Try to avoid early or late evening video calls. Stick to normal business hours whenever possible.
- Schedule breaks ... write them down in your schedule. Try to allow at least 30 minutes between video conferences. Use this downtime to relax, grab a cup of coffee or tea, use the restroom and prepare for the next video call.
- If you schedule a video conference, create an itinerary and stick to it. This will help your work or school meeting flow smoothly and keep it from lasting longer than it should.
- Use an application such as Otter Live Notes to transcribe your meetings and classes. This means you don’t have to take comprehensive notes yourself. You can keep track of what was said, and you can distribute the notes to those who were not in attendance.
- Everyone has peak periods when they’re especially on top of things. If it’s possible, scheduling video calls during peak productivity periods will help you to avoid Zoom fatigue.
Working and attending school from home can be stressful. Trying to maintain your cool and have a professional appearance while your toddler is demanding your attention, your kids or roommates are having heated discussions, or the dog is barking in the background can make video calls a challenge.
There are obvious benefits to video conferencing, however, which allows individuals to make social connections in times of isolation and makes jobs/classes more accessible to individuals who have chronic health conditions. But there can be a cost associated with its use.
Although no formal diagnosis for Zoom fatigue exists, its effects—feelings of exhaustion or burnout—are very real. This doesn’t mean that it's inevitable—that everyone who participates in video conferencing will experience Zoom fatigue. The new normal is likely to see continued use of video conferencing applications. By being more aware of the effects and causes, you’ll lower your chances of developing Zoom fatigue and boost your productivity.