Rewind a year and for most of us, ‘zoom’ was nothing more than a camera function. But thanks to a year stuck at home, Zoom (along with Teams, Google Meet, Facetime and the myriad other video conferencing applications out there) has become a ubiquitous part of our everyday lives.
For the most part, these virtual tools have been essential lifelines. Not only have they facilitated at-home working throughout the pandemic, but they’ve also enabled us to keep in touch with loved ones when real-life meet-ups were off the agenda. However, as the old adage goes: you can have too much of a good thing. And that’s exactly why Zoom fatigue seems to be so prevalent right now.
We’ve all felt the tiredness that comes after a day spent speaking to a screen on work meetings and groaned when a friend suggests yet another Zoom catch-up. But what is zoom fatigue? How does it manifest? Why does it occur? And how can we combat it before it leads to total burnout? We have all the answers below.
What is Zoom fatigue?
“Zoom fatigue is the exhaustion that arises from the excess use of video conferencing meetings such as Zoom, Teams or Google Meet that came with the pandemic isolation ” explains New Life Portugal’s mindfulness and emotional intelligence senior instructor, Marina Neumann, MBA.
Burnout, on the other hand, is considered a medical syndrome. In fact, the World Health Organisation (WHO) recognised burnout as a medical syndrome in May 2019 and defines it as “chronic stress related to the work environment that has not been successfully managed”. We’ve all felt the stress of piling workloads, but burnout “is related to overall working conditions and resources being beyond the resources of a person, both internal and external.”
Given Zoom meetings have infiltrated all aspects of our lives – from remote working to keeping in touch with family and friends – they can be an additional cause leading to overall burnout, particularly if they inhibit the completion of your to-do list or slow down your work efficiency.
Why are the downsides of Zoom meetings?
Although Zoom meetings might allow us to take part in meetings without ever leaving our desks, they come with their own set of drawbacks. “Video calls make it more difficult to maintain focus and concentration than in-person meetings, and that consumes so much more energy,” Marina explains.
Just the very act of looking at a screen can be exhausting. “We stare at someone’s face much more than we would if we were sitting in the same room as our interlocutors,” Marina adds.
Virtual meetings also feel a lot flatter than those carried out in real life, which can zap us of our already depleted energy reserves. “As social beings, video conferencing does not bring the happiness of direct contact that nurtures and energises us so much,” she explains.
Remote working has also made all interpersonal communication much more formalised: long gone are the watercooler chats or kitchen conversations that played a massive part of office culture. “These informal meetings, like corridor talks and coffee time facilitated a lot of conversation, problem solving and social support.”
Why are Zoom meetings so tiring?
Marina flags a recent study from Stanford that states there are five specific non-verbal mechanisms unique to current implementations of video conferences that may cause Zoom fatigue.
- Mirror anxiety
“This can be triggered by the self-view in video conferences that acts as an omnipresent mirror during social interactions.”
- A physical trap
“Because of the need to stay within the field of view of the camera, there’s a sense of being physically trapped,” Marina notes. “In face-to-face meetings people can pace, move and stretch, but on video conferences their mobility is reduced to within a narrow cone.”
- Hyper gaze
“This refers to the perceptual experience of constantly having people’s eye in your field of view. During in-person meetings, the speaker tends to draw the gaze of others, but during video conferences all participants get the direct eye-gaze of one another, regardless of who is speaking.
- Increased cognitive load
“The last two mechanisms are related to the increased cognitive load of managing nonverbal behaviour in this novel communication environment.” When you think about in-person communication, a significant part of the conversation is picked up through cues like body language and gestures that can feel spontaneous, non-conscious and subtle. On the other hand, “video conferences require intentional effort and attention to both produce and interpret nonverbal communication. such as head nodding at appropriate times or exaggerating gestures so they can be seen on the screen, can increase cognitive load in video conferences.”
What are the symptoms of Zoom fatigue?
There are a multitude of signs to look out for if you think you might be suffering from Zoom fatigue. Marina highlights the following:
- Sore eyes, eye irritation and pain
- Blurred and double vision
- Excessive tearing and blinking
- Eye strain or irritation that wasn’t pre-existing
- Feeling tired between calls
- Feeling more tired at the end of your working day than usual
- Daydreaming instead of paying attention in your meetings
- Overheating or feeling sweaty during calls
- Constant feeling of exhaustion
- Anxiety of turning on your camera
- Forgetfulness and difficulty concentrating
- Difficulty maintaining relationships and being present with loved ones
- Frustration and irritability with co-workers
- Physical symptoms, like muscle tension, pain, fatigue, and insomnia
- Regular headaches or migraines
How to combat Zoom fatigue
“Zoom fatigue and burnout can have severe impacts on our mental and physical health and may cause anxiety, depression, isolation, and lack of motivation,” warns Marina. “Enhanced attention to setting a self-care plan and boundaries are required.” While it isn’t always possible to clear your work schedule of all virtual meetings, there are some tactics you can take to prevent Zoom fatigue and reduce its impact on you.
Take a break
“Take short pauses from the computer at least every hour,” Marina recommends. “Look out of the window, stretch, close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. You can also practice peripheral vision by expanding your visual field 180 degrees.”
Practice eye yoga
“Some eye yoga exercises help to relieve eye strain symptoms,” reveals Marina. “In a study of 60 nursing students, 8 weeks of eye yoga practice was shown to make eyes feel less tired and fatigued.”
Plan your schedule tactically
Now that the world is beginning to open up again, try organising some of your more informal meetings outdoors where possible. “Avoid scheduling back to back calls, build in screen breaks and wherever possible, switch to phone calls or emails,” she recommends. “Try to keep one day a week without video meetings.”
“Multitasking can be so tempting in a virtual environment like checking your emails or Whatsapp while attending a meeting with many people or online training,” Marina admits, so try to stick to a single screen at any one time.
Turn your camera off
“If video is not necessary, switch it off and avoid looking at your own image during the conference. You can also adjust your setting to look just at the person speaking, not to all participants of the meeting at the same time.”