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It’s the end of a long day of back-to-back Zoom calls. As you hang up your headphones, you notice your back is stiff, your eyes are sore, and you feel energetically and emotionally drained.
You reach for your phone to cancel your social plans — you’re too exhausted to go out tonight.
And as you try to relax and wind down for the evening, you notice you feel irritable and find yourself snapping at your partner or kids.
If this sounds familiar, you might be suffering from Zoom fatigue. But what causes Zoom fatigue? And how can you prevent or relieve it?
Read on to find out.
Word-based burnout vs. Zoom fatigue
Project managers constantly communicate. They fire off emails to team members, attend management meetings, and spearhead large projects such as website launches and migrations. They are the lifeblood of companies.
Naturally, such a high number of daily interactions can leave you feeling drained and exhausted. This is known as word-based burnout.
On the other hand, we can define Zoom fatigue as a collection of physical and psychological consequences. They arise from communicating for long periods over Zoom or another video platform, such as Microsoft Teams or Google Hangouts, even FaceTime.
The consequences of Zoom exhaustion affect a person’s health, well-being, and ability to perform their work effectively.
Why are virtual meetings so tiring?
The COVID-19 pandemic changed the way we work forever. And though we’re grateful for Zoom keeping us connected while we were sheltering in place, we also know it has its drawbacks.
But why is video chat so exhausting? Here are four of the main reasons.
1. Too much eye contact
In a video meeting, both the number of people looking at you and the size of the faces on the screen are unnatural.
In a face-to-face meeting, you wouldn’t make so much eye contact with your fellow attendees. People would look at the speaker, around the room, and at their phones or notebooks.
But in a Zoom meeting, everyone is constantly watching each other. Not only that, but the size of their faces gives the impression of being in close proximity to them.
Our brains interpret physical closeness as being in an intense situation. Usually, it means we’re either about to mate or fight. This is why people tend to avoid each other’s gaze in elevators.
This, combined with the sensation of being constantly watched, is a big source of Zoom fatigue.
2. Cognitive load
The cognitive load refers to the amount of thought we have to put into a task. A conversation is something that usually comes naturally to humans, but with Zoom in the middle, it requires more conscious effort.
This is because we normally rely on nonverbal cues. But when we can only see one another’s heads, we have to exaggerate our facial expressions to make sure we’re understood.
We must also work harder to understand the body language of our colleagues.
For example, if someone looks at something off-screen, we don’t know the context and therefore don't understand why they’re distracted.
3. Reduced mobility
Good video conference etiquette dictates that we remain clearly visible throughout the meeting. This requires staying still for unnaturally long periods of time.
During in-person meetings, people can move freely without losing track of the conversation. In fact, research shows that people are more creative and communicate better when they move around.
Even on an audio call, your movements are unrestricted, and you can do other things without losing track of the conversation.
By restricting ourselves to the frame of our computer screens, we also limit our capacity to think and speak freely.
4. All-day mirror
Imagine walking around all day with a mirror in front of your face that lets you see everything you do. It would seem absurd and unnatural. Yet, that’s exactly what Zoom does to us.
Some people might find it useful to evaluate themselves this way. But for others, the psychological stress it causes can have negative consequences for their mental health and fitness.
5 ways to recognize Zoom meeting fatigue
A new research paper on Zoom fatigue by Stanford University identifies five categories of fatigue that contribute to Zoom meeting fatigue:
1. General fatigue
If you feel tired, exhausted, or mentally or physically drained after a video meeting, you may be experiencing general fatigue.
2. Visual fatigue
Visual fatigue occurs as a result of spending too much time in front of the screen. Symptoms may include blurred vision, irritated eyes, or pain in the muscles around the eyes.
3. Social fatigue
If you start avoiding social events, canceling plans or video calls, or needing a lot of alone time, you might be suffering from social fatigue.
Social fatigue may also put a strain on your relationships with family, friends, and colleagues as it causes you to be more irritable.
4. Motivational fatigue
A sense of dread at the thought of carrying out simple tasks or lacking the energy to do them might be signs of motivational fatigue.
It can also look like a loss of enthusiasm and concentration and the inability to handle your work responsibilities.
5. Emotional fatigue
Emotional fatigue is characterized by feeling emotionally drained, irritable, and moody.
How to reduce Zoom fatigue
As we slowly move into the post-pandemic world, Zoom meetings are likely to continue to be a prevalent form of communication.
Because of this, you want to make sure Zoom is working for you, and helping you be more productive in your workday, rather than against you.
You may not be able to control the number of video conferences in your schedule, but it is possible to reduce your risk of Zoom fatigue.
Here are six of our top strategies:
1. Avoid multitasking
It can be tempting to do something else during Zoom meetings, but it’s best to resist the urge.
Multitasking burns extra mental energy, which can leave you feeling frazzled.
It can also make you less effective in your work, as it affects your ability to focus on the tasks at hand.
Remove all distractions, such as your phone, and keep your browser windows closed to reduce the temptation to multitask.
2. Reduce stimuli on the screen
It’s easy to get distracted in Zoom meetings — there’s so much happening on the screen.
We see our own faces as well as those of our colleagues. We also see what’s behind them and get a sneak peek into their homes.
These details capture our attention, and we subconsciously take them in. This is an overload of information that stimulates our brains and uses up our mental energy.
Reduce stimuli on the screen by keeping your Zoom window on speaker view and closing all other programs and browser windows.
Reduce stimuli for your colleagues by keeping your background minimal and neutral
This will help reduce the chances of them developing Zoom fatigue from your background.
3. Switch to phone or email
In this golden age of Zoom, we tend to forget about good old-fashioned phone calls and emails.
To avoid overloading your Zoom meeting schedule, assess whether a video meeting is necessary. Perhaps you can resolve the issue via another communication channel.
If you’re exhausted from a long day in front of the screen, you might want to suggest an audio call or postpone it for another day.
It’s also best not to use video if you have to take a call outside the office, as this can make the situation stressful and counterproductive.
4. Take short breaks
Taking breaks from long Zoom meetings is essential for your body and brain.
Turn off your camera for a few moments so you can get up and move around. Exercise your eyes by looking at objects at different distances from you.
You may want to agree with your fellow participants to turn the video off from time to time. Others will feel the same way as you and will welcome the break.
And if you have back-to-back meetings, block out at least a 10-minute break between them, if possible.
5. Hide self-view
It’s not necessary for you to see yourself all the time, as it can make you feel self-conscious and lead to self-criticism.
Hiding self-view is the best way to avoid looking at and analyzing your every movement or gesture. It can stop you from obsessing over how you look.
If you want, use self-view at the beginning of the call to make sure people can see you clearly. Then, turn it off.
6. Give yourself more space
Sitting in a tiny space in front of your computer all day can be exhausting. Give yourself more space by using wireless earphones, keyboard, and mouse.
This will allow you to move away from the computer while still participating in the meeting.
Another solution is to use an external webcam and place it farther away from you than your screen. The distance will make you feel more like you’re in a face-to-face meeting.
Zoom fatigue is real — but there are ways to deal with it
Changing your video conferencing habits can help you combat Zoom fatigue. With a few small tweaks, your Zoom calls can become a more pleasant and less intimidating experience.
But if you’re still struggling to overcome Zoom fatigue, you might want to consider working with a coach. They can help you find a working arrangement that works for you.
Get in touch with BetterUp today to discover how our expert coaches can help you.
Sr. Insights Manager