The current pandemic definitely put a wrench in the well-oiled gears of people’s lives, grinding many of us to a sudden and jolting halt. Many went through a dramatic change; whether it was school, university or work, we had to adapt to a new method and standard of communication.
Most of us during this time has been faced with the task of entering an online platform such as Zoom for classes, meetings or even just to catch up with our friends and family. These platforms have become a standard part of our lives; video calls have replaced our in-person meetings and classes. My own college delivered courses via livestream and all of our classes will also be livestreamed now going forward, even when we have attendees in our classrooms.
Many are subsequently citing “Zoom fatigue.”
What is Zoom Fatigue?
So, what exactly is zoom fatigue, and how does it affect us? Zoom fatigue is used as a general term for the exhaustion that comes with using any video conferencing platform, be it Microsoft Teams, Skype, Facetime, Google Meet, or any number of other outlets available today. According to psychologists such as Marissa Shuffler who was interviewed on this topic for CBC recently, zoom fatigue is the exhaustion or tiredness stemming from continuous video meetings. What’s more psychologists say that such constant video communications methods are draining users more than real-life face-to-face conversations.
How Does It Affect Us?
The way Zoom fatigue affects a person has a lot to do with the change in interactions and how much harder our brains have to work to maintain standard levels of communication. Video calls/ conferences place additional strain on our brains for a variety of reasons.
Body Language In our day-to-day conversations, we can understand more clearly what someone is trying to communicate to us. With zoom, this becomes increasingly difficult, and we are forced to understand people’s meanings with micro-expressions and minute split-second hand gestures at most.
This makes human building connections difficult, and it also forces our minds to work harder to decrease the awkwardness we feel. Combine this with endless meetings, and it can become exhausting, especially for those with daily sessions.
Zoom has 300 million daily meeting participants. Many of these users are work from home employees, and while zoom has made it easier to work at home, it has made it more difficult not to work. You constantly become available to your fellow colleagues, superiors, and customers because zoom makes you accessible at all times. It becomes challenging to say no to meetings outside of work hours because the work-home boundary has become blurred.
This is incredibly mentally taxing because we need to be able to unplug work and separate from work and home life. When this boundary is removed or becomes blurred, you can find it harder to relax. If you are constantly worrying about work; you can find yourself checking your email or phone for job-related communications, and you may find yourself needing to leave your home (home jitters).
On some days we can be incredibly self-critical, but at least when having face to face conversations, we are unable to converse and be judging ourselves simultaneously; it serves as a break. With Zoom and other video meeting platforms, the little screen is a constant reminder of our own presence. We are continually monitoring our self, our actions, our appearance while in meetings. For some, it’s hard to not stare at yourself even if someone else is doing the talking.
It can feel like everyone is watching you and critiquing you, which of course, is not valid. It can be draining to feel as if you need to be alert at all times or always be “acting” in a specific way for your meetings. With back-to-back meetings, this can get exhausting very quickly and making it simple to understand why someone would experience zoom fatigue, especially if the person in question already faces high levels of anxiety or stress.
It sounds like a good idea, but it rarely actually is. When you are in a video call, it is easy to start doing other things while someone else is talking. To send off an email, write up an article, do some research, it all sounds good in theory, but it actually decreases your quality of work all around.
When you’re trying to do thing multiple things at once, your brain has to work much harder, not only to switch between the different things you are doing but also focusing on the tasks themselves. So, while it may seem you are getting more work done, you are actually tiring yourself out and reducing the quality of the work you are doing.
It can be easy to become distracted when you spend multiple hours in meetings without breaks. Your mind begins to wander, and you can find yourself doing other things besides focusing on work. This also makes our mind work much harder to focus on the task at hand, i.e., the current meeting. Contributing significantly to the feeling of fatigue we feel post video meetings.
Like all things, technology has its difficulties and failures. These technical errors can make video meetings even more exhausting; with Wi-Fi issues, lagging audio or video, frozen screens, and much more, the ability to communicate becomes strained. It adds to frustration and stress for many reasons, and you may have to repeat your points multiple time or have difficulty understanding others which can make the whole experience require a lot of patience.
What are the Symptoms of Zoom Fatigue?
Like any other illness or disorder, zoom fatigue also has specific symptoms that you can look for if you feel you are suffering from Zoom Fatigue. Some of the most common symptoms include:
The persistent feeling of exhaustion despite getting rest. Irritated or tired eyes, mainly if this was never an issue previously. Getting easily distracted or finding yourself daydream during work hours. Feelings of stress or anxiety before a call even begin—repeated headaches or migraines during and after the workday. The feeling of immense exhaustion is far greater than the standard tiredness you feel after a day’s work.
These are just some of the symptoms of zoom fatigue. If you feel that many of these symptoms apply to you, then it is possible that you are suffering from zoom fatigue. Not to worry, though. Here is a list of things that you can do to better your zoom experience and reduce zoom related stress.
Combating Zoom Fatigue
Zoom (or it’s counterparts) is unavoidable given the current global environment, and honestly, there is a possibility it could be sticking around long after this pandemic ends. So, it’s best that you learn how to co-exist with zoom and create ways to make zoom adapt to your needs. With a few modifications to your daily routine, you can easily go back to having an enjoyable experience with Zoom or other platforms like it.
Have Fewer Video Calls
You may be thinking that saying this is easy, implementation is hard, but that doesn’t have to be true. There are ways you can efficiently and politely cut down on the number of video calls you have daily.
No- Meeting Sections
If you have a calendar that your colleagues or team members can see, you can select times in your calendar to mark “No Meetings” so that everyone knows beforehand to nor request a meeting in these time slots. You don’t have to say no to anyone this way, and you can avoid the video call.
Alternatively, you can divide your day into meetings and non-meeting work. This way, you can focus on meetings during one portion of the day and other work-related things the other part of your workday.
Select one day of the week; a Wednesday for example, and use that day to either have all your weeks meetings or to have a completely meeting free day. Let the people you work with know about this idea; chances are they are facing the same zoom fatigue as you are. This way, you can all coordinate to have one day with all your meetings or one day completely without any meetings. Either way, it provides you so much needed relief from the constant anxiety of video calls.
If after a meeting ends, all you can think is that “this meeting could have been an email”, then you would be right. While zoom has done wonders in keeping us in touch with our fellow teammates and colleagues, it has also made us prone to taking that route.
Use emails and collaboration options such as google docs to keep quality collaborative work while cutting down on meetings. Think about your ideas and articulate them clearly in your emails or texts so that the need for meetings can be minimised. This also allows you to keep an archive of emails or texts sent to look back at when needed.
An asynchronous, recorded video can sometimes be used in place of synchronous meetings. You can do many things like updates regarding projects or employee introductions or weekly distribution of tasks via recorded video that people can watch in their own time—allowing for workplace flexibility and reduced stress levels. You can even screen-record any presentations or project work and upload it for people to go through at their convenience.
Unavoidable Video Calls
Some calls just can not be put off; the topic of discussion can not be put into an email or chat. There are some ways you can minimise the anxiety and fatigue you feel in these video calls, not just for you but for everyone involved.
Create a schedule for all necessary video calls so you and those involved clearly indicate what needs to be discussed. If someone else is organising the call, ask that they provide you with a clear point for the meeting and agenda. This makes sure that everyone sticks to the given plan and that any meetings with unclear purpose are not entertained.
Any activity without a break can make it difficult to focus and exhaust you mentally and physically. Try to take breaks, even if it is just a short 5-minute break, stretch your legs. Make a quick cup of tea or coffee. If you can get a longer break between meetings, try to stretch, move about, get your heart rate going. Physical activities produce endorphins and help release stress.
Cut down on the amount of time you spend in meetings, and I mean all your meetings. Have a standard meeting time of 30mins, aim to keep your meetings within this time limit. This can be done by creating an agenda, sending a video update before the meeting, sending presentations to participants prior to the meeting.
This cuts down drastically on the time you need to get everyone on one page. You can move on to suggestions, problem-solving, and questions answer sessions that prove beneficial to everyone involved.
If you must turn on your camera, avoid looking at yourself throughout the meeting. If it does nothing but add to your anxiety, begin the meeting, and ensure you and your surroundings are set and hide the self-view if possible. Focus your screen (or pin it) on the presenter or presentation, and do not recheck yourself.
While others can still see you and be aware of your presence and interest in the meeting, you are not forced to be hyper-aware of yourself, and this can help in reducing your stress and fatigue.
Not all meetings require video presence. You can and should turn off the camera in meetings where video presence is not mandatory or necessary; it not only lowers network load but also helps to reduce your anxiety. You do not need to have your camera on in meetings where you are simply are a participant or even when you are screen sharing a presentation.
Zoom fatigue is a relatively new phenomenon, but it can be difficult to deal with on a daily basis for those dealing with it. It has become easier to balance work and home life and to relax with work from home, making us more available. However, the above steps will definitely assist you in dealing with zoom fatigue and keep you de-stressed until you can go back to your offices and classrooms. Until then, I hope this list will help you to continue enjoying your zoom experience.
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