Video calls may have made working from home and connecting with others easier than ever, especially during the pandemic. But they come with a massive negative, namely Zoom fatigue.
Turns out, there are several reasons for the fatigue, even reason to believe that women may suffer more than men. Fortunately, though, there are ways to combat it. Here’s how.
Why Video Calls Are So Exhausting
At face value, it doesn’t seem like a video call should be that exhausting. Consider, after all, that you’ve probably sat through hours-long meetings or classes, and while you may have been tired, you’re not drop dead exhausted. Yet there is a difference, and numerous factors explain why video calls are so taxing.
For starters, you’re moving less when you’re on a video call. “You’re forced to sit forever during video calls, which never happens in an in-person meeting,” says Erik Peper, Ph.D., professor of holistic health at San Francisco State University and co-author of Tech Stress (North Atlantic Books, 2020). During a live meeting, after all, you might get up to get another cup of coffee or go to the bathroom. With a video call, however, you often feel trapped.
That inactivity comes with several downsides. Lack of activity alone can drain you, but when you’re sitting, you’re probably also holding your body in a static posture, perhaps even slumping, especially if you’re on your couch during the call. Yet body posture can pull your mood and energy levels down. Peper’s research shows that energy levels plummet when you sit with a rounded, closed posture. “Slumping allows easier access to negative memories, which can increase rates of depression and anxiety,” he says.
Plus, with video calls, you’re experiencing what Peper calls near vision stress, which involves the muscles of your eyes tightening. During an in-person meeting, you might be looking at something nearby and then something further away, but when you’re on a video call, your eyes are fixated solely on the screen. Not only does that single focus fatigue you, you might even forget to blink, which can contribute to eye fatigue.
Even the close-up eye contact that you make with people on video calls is problematic, namely because it’s so unnatural that your brain interprets it as an intense situation. According to Stanford University experts who have studied Zoom fatigue, when that happens, you’re then in a “hyper-aroused state” the entire time, which can be fatiguing.
And let’s not overlook the lack of social connection from being on a video call. At in-person meetings, you might smile or laugh or even just meet somebody’s eyes, all of which can help prevent your energy from dipping. Not so with video calls. “In the absence of social connectivity, your energy goes down,” Peper says.
Unfortunately, these side effects may be even more pronounced for women than men. According to a study from the journal Technology, Mind and Behavior, women experienced greater fatigue than men after a video call. One reason? Something researchers call self-focused attention, essentially increased awareness about how you come across or appear in a conversation. Women also felt more trapped to stay in the center of the camera’s view, yet another cause for fatigue.
7 Strategies to Combat Zoom Fatigue
You may not be able to give up the video calls any time soon, but there are ways you can fight the fatigue. Take these strategies to the computer during your next video call:
Move: The human body isn’t designed to sit for long periods so make sure you’re moving frequently, Peper says. Every 30 minutes (set a timer to remind yourself), turn the camera off and take a break from sitting, moving in whatever way you can. Maybe you do standing stretches, walk around your space, do strength exercises with a dumbbell, or use a foam roller to work out muscle tension. Or just dance.
Assume an upright posture: Rather than slumping, focus on sitting – or standing – as upright as you can. Just as slumping can increase fatigue, an upright posture allows you to access positive emotions more easily, which can increase your energy, Piper says. And avoid sitting in places where you typically unwind like your couch, which will then tell your brain to rewind and invite the sleepies in. Instead, designate a spot in your home to do video calls, especially if they’re for work.
Be an interactive and responsive listener: If your video call involves listening to a presentation, avoid staring blankly at the screen. Instead, engage with the presenter as if you’re having a personal conversation with that individual, Peper says. If you agree with the speaker, nod. Don’t agree? Shake your head. Try to do this the entire time, as one of Peper’s studies found that when college students did this during Zoom classes, their energy and attention increased.
Relieve your eyes: Rather than staring at the screen the entire time, look away every so often.
Turn off self-view: This is especially important for women, but if you want to avoid what Stanford researchers call mirror anxiety, a prolonged self-focus that can lead to negative emotions, turn off self-view in your platform’s settings. This can also prevent you from feeling trapped; moving further away from the screen can help, too.
Minimize the size of participants’ faces: To avoid the hyper-aroused state that Stanford researchers write about, take Zoom or whatever platform you’re using off the full-screen option. Then reduce the size of that window on your monitor so faces appear smaller.
Give yourself permission to turn the camera off: Don’t think you have to have the camera on the entire time. If you listen better or have less anxiety or both with the camera off, then turn that camera off. Worried what people will think? Write in the chatbox how you find that having the camera on interferes with your productivity, but you are there. Or just engage frequently in the chatbox so people know you’re there. When all else fails, “tell a little while lie and say you’re having camera issues,” Peper says. Or, blame it on your Wi-Fi.
Read on for more easy tactics for overcoming the always-home blues: