You've probably lost count of how many Zoom conferences and video chats you've had since the pandemic began. Since a return to the office (or back to campus) seems up in the air, though, it's clear that video chats have become part of our new normal. There are so many opportunities for you to use Zoom: At work with colleagues, on the weekends with pals, when you're working out, and even when you're on a date. And if you feel like you're totally burnt out even though you haven't even left the house, you're not crazy — some experts have even coined the term "Zoom fatigue" to explain the phenomena.
A video meeting or hangout does have its advantages: It's the only way to completely stay safe while also staying in touch. “The problem is not Zoom — it is a great technology — but it’s the fact that we are sheltering and working from home, and we need to pay attention to taking care of ourselves, strengthening our social support system, being honest with ourselves and others, and taking stock of how we are feeling,” explains Eric Zillmer, Psy.D, the Carl Pacifico professor of Neuropsychology at Drexel University and licensed clinical psychologist.
— MyiraKhanCounselling (@Myira_Khan) July 8, 2020
Since Zoom meetings are heavily focused on face-to-face interactions, it can easily start to feel like they are taking over your life. And if you’re on one quick Zoom check-in after another for work, in particular, it can be challenging to keep up a smile and to stay on track with your schedule. (People can talk forever sometimes, right?) Below, experts share how Zoom fatigue can affect you, as well as a few rational tips to make sure you don't end up committing a video chat faux pax in the near future.
What is Zoom fatigue?
“Zoom fatigue is a unique kind of exhaustion that occurs when people participate in teleconferencing calls for an extended time period,” says Savitri Dixon-Saxon, Ph.D., the vice provost for Walden University’s College of Social and Behavioral Sciences and a licensed professional counselor. “Mental health experts suspect that Zoom fatigue happens because interacting over video calls is so different from meeting in person,” she adds.
In video calls, you need to focus on multiple colleagues at one time (or even just friends and family members) and each person on a call has a different background that draws the eye, so this can trip you up a bit too. Plus, you need to be able to concentrate without constant collaboration. So even if you’re not talking or currently present in a meeting, you'll strive to remain approachable and focused, as your camera is on and they can see what you’re up to. Ugh, right?
“[You] can’t turn to the person beside them at the conference table to clarify, or fill in a gap in the conversation. People in video calls are often distracted by their own appearance in this way,” Dixon-Saxon explains. Plus, you’re fighting other distractions that aren't usually present at work, like dogs barking, children looking for the television remote, or partners walking into the room unaware that there’s a call going on. “Video calls also enable multitasking, allowing callers to overtax their minds,” as well, she adds.
You may be feeling more overwhelmed, exhausted, and irritable than usual, and there may also be some physical side effects associated with those feelings:
Tension in your eyes due to strain you have by focusing on the screen.
Aches and pains in your lower back, neck, or spine, which may be attributed to the way you're sitting or set up at home.
Excessive feelings of apathy. "Some say the overstimulation gives them a strong desire to disengage and be quiet," Dixon-Saxon says.
The healthiest ways to manage Zoom fatigue:
While we'd all love to unplug forever, there's no denying it — Zoom and video conferences are here to stay. Rather than disconnect emotionally from your colleagues or loved ones, try working on one of these ways to feel more relaxed when taking these calls.
Turn the camera off: For one, you can turn off video and listen to audio for a portion of your calls. “People need that break from looking at their own image all day,” Dixon-Saxon says. Explain that you will be keeping the camera off for a portion of the meeting, or simply dial in for audio only. If no one demands you to be on camera, then keep it off and continue on with the meeting with a positive attitude.
Keep a tight schedule: You can keep the meetings brief and make it clear that you’re on a tight schedule so people know what to expect in terms of length. “Shorten meetings to 30 minutes instead of an hour,” says Dixon-Saxon. Tell everyone up front that you will need to get off right when the clock strikes, and the feeling of exhaustion might not be exacerbated.
Get dressed up: Yes, really! Video calls won't be monotonous if you make each one a separate occasion with a new outfit. Putting in some work on your appearance will help shape your mood. "Try to ‘dress up’ for important zoom calls, [as] it provides structure for you and it will feel like you are in work mode," Dixon-Saxon says.
Make meetings 5-10 minutes apart: Make sure to take comfort breaks to use the bathroom, refill water, or get lunch. And always try to start meetings 10 minutes apart, says Zillmer. Get up and walk around outside or inside the home. Do stretches or other exercises at your desk. This will give you some solo time to recharge.
Decline invitations when you must: It’s crucial to set boundaries and learn how to say no to meetings or hangouts when you’re feeling drained, says Zillmer. "It’s a good idea to make an appearance in the social setting at work, but each person gets to decide how much is enough,” Dixon-Saxon says. Yet, you don’t need to stay long. “It is acceptable to make an appearance for a few minutes before signing off to attend to family responsibilities. It’s appropriate to think of Zoom happy hours as if they are in-person happy hours,” explains Saxon-Dixon, so say kindly that you will make an appearance (or decline) but that you cannot stay for long due to other engagements or your need for time away from your computer.
Remind yourself that video chats are a great tool: Zoom can be great for a few reasons — it lowers the environmental impact by limiting driving, it keeps you connected with people, and it can cut down on money or time you’d spend for a night out. "Most people can take the time they would have spent commuting and use it in positive ways. Try to apply that time to being with family, doing hobbies, exercising, or planning healthy meals," Saxon-Dixon says. "Those fortunate enough to be able to work in these difficult times should recognize that they are the lucky ones,” she adds, so if it’s work related, think about the benefits you are receiving by being able to maintain your income and role.
Have fun with it! "Video calls give colleagues the opportunity to have real conversations instead of staring at slide presentations to communicate ideas. Send questions to the group ahead of time and arrange a roundtable discussion instead of asking each person to prepare slides," Saxon-Dixon advises. You can also find ways to celebrate colleagues through teleconferences. “A coworker of mine recently left our team. I planned a trivia game about him in which each player chose multiple-choice answers to determine who knew him best," says Zilmer.“Before the farewell, I arranged for several people to speak about his time at the organization. I sent him a bottle of wine for a farewell toast. He was very pleased and honored." Those are only just a few ways to turn Zoom fatigue into an excuse for a celebration!
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