For many of us, working from home means spending a lot of time on video meeting applications like Zoom. The effects of this have taken us by surprise.
Having giant heads staring at us up close for long periods can be off-putting for a lot of us. Never mind that we feel we should fix our hair, put on makeup, or get out of our pajamas.
Whatever video platform you’re using, you’ve no doubt experiencing serious Zoom fatigue. According to neuroscience experts, our systems find staring so directly not just at our own but at other people’s faces on screens unnatural – it gives us so much information to process. It’s brain overload. Ophthalmologists too, say it also makes us forget to blink leaving our eyes heavy and dehydrated.
What is Zoom Fatigue?
Whether it’s a business meeting, online class, or a family or social gathering, we are all spending more time on video calls, which is physically and mentally draining. ‘Zoom Fatigue‘ is the phenomenon that describes the exhaustion we feel after too many video meetings.
While the condition is named after the Zoom app due to its popularity, it’s important to note that Zoom Fatigue applies to all video chat apps such as Google Meet, Skype, Facetime, Microsoft Teams or HouseParty, among others. If you consistently feel drained after Zoom meetings or feel like you do not want to attend as many virtual meetings, you may be experiencing Zoom Fatigue.
The most common symptoms of Zoom Fatigue are:
- Feelings of burnout
- Eye strain
- Lack of motivation
- Difficulty concentrating
- Increasing impatience and irritability
- Back pain
- Low productivity
The symptoms of video call fatigue can vary from person to person. Some people may only experience one or two of these symptoms, while others may experience most or all of them.
Why are video calls so exhausting?
Why are video meetings so much more tiring than IRL ones? After all, we’ve not had to haul ourselves there or worry about what we look like below the waist? Let’s explore in more detail.
1. Focusing on others triggers a stress response
If you’re prone to sitting stock-still on Zoom, this is likely to affect how tired you are. Keeping focus on other people on Zoom while sitting rigidly immobilises our nervous system and neuromuscular system into what feels like a freeze response.
This is a stress response that our bodies detect and relay back to the brain, meaning a dose of stress is sent round the body. Not ideal when you’re just catching up on a work project.
2. Eye contact is intense
Normally in a face-to-face meeting, we’d look away from time-to-time. However, on Zoom this can seem rude and make it appear we’re distracted. Looking away allows the eyes to relax focus and means our bodies are free to relax, whereas Zoom meetings drive the opposite reaction.
Eye-to-eye contact, which we maintain throughout Zoom meetings is incredibly intense and can be overwhelming for some people. You’re up close with others’ faces, staring into their eyes in a way that would only happen in real life if you were dating or in a similarly intimate situation.
3. It’s yet another way to fill our time with screen activity
Logging into Zoom calls between emails and other screen activity – we’re all guilty of scrolling through our phone as a break from looking at our laptops – means that your brain has to deal with a much higher intensity of information and it’s not sustainable.
On top of this, we know that when we log off the video call, emails will have piled up, resulting in more information overload. Every moment being filled creates anxiety, prolongs working hours and erodes our time to relax.
4. We can’t read body language
Without even knowing it we pick up clues from the people we’re around, be it their body language or reading their facial expressions. This is trickier on video calls and our brain has to work harder to read the room, which can feel exhausting.
In real life, we would see the whole person and our brain takes safety cues from other people’s body language. Do we like them, are we relaxed around them? When you can only see a small part of the person and they are not moving, your brain is working overtime trying to read them, keeping you on high alert, trying to process the little information it has. If there are several people on your call, that effect is magnified.
When we’re on Zoom or another type of video chat, the brain has to work overtime to process the information. This places stress on the mind and uses up a lot of energy, which is why you might feel exhausted or stressed after a long Zoom call.
5. It chips away at our self-worth
How many times do you see people fiddling with their hair or rearranging their facial expressions in Zoom meetings as if they were taking a selfie? We spend as much time trying to assess ourselves as we do others. In real life, we’d never had to attend a meeting, brunch or family do where we had to stare in the mirror for hours. When you add worries about how one looks, which many people say is a concern on Zoom, to all the other factors, and we have a brain that is overloaded with much more information than would happen elsewhere.
The combination of ‘I’m being seen!’ and ‘how do I look?’ raises anxiety which has to be managed in real-time through composure. This means we have to exercise more self-control and this too is exhausting.
6. Tired and itchy ‘Zoom eyes’
If you’re suffering from heavy, tired eyes that are red, itchy or overwatering, it’s a phenomenon ophthalmologists call ‘Zoom eyes’. One of the most striking symptoms is that you can’t stare at a screen anymore by the end of the day.
When video calling (or looking at any screen) we blink six-to-eight times less than normal. So your tears, which are like little sips of water for your eyes keeping them hydrated, are not replenished as often. Your eyes are essentially parched while you’re on a Zoom call.
How to Make Video Calls Less Tiring
There are steps you can take to try and minimize the impact of Zoom Fatigue and boost your mood and productivity.
1. Turn off the video function
This will be music to the ears of ‘camera-off’ fans. You can just turn your camera off when it’s not needed – during presentations where you’re just watching, for example, or opting for a good old-fashioned phone call where (digital) face to face isn’t necessary.
2. Hide the ‘self-view’ panel
You could also make use of the ‘hide my selfie’ option on Zoom, beneath the three dots in the top right of your image. To avoid the stress of having to look at your own face all the time, turn on your camera, do a quick check that your lighting is okay, and then hide self-view.
It means others can see you, but you no longer need to look at yourself. Just remember you’ve got it on before you start yawning!
3. Don’t multitask during online meetings
While on a video call, we all know how tempting it is to pull up another window and check your emails or messaging apps. Close all other tabs on your desktop, and focus your attention solely on the meeting at hand until it’s over.
4. Build in breaks
Experts say spending time away from the screen is key to staying energised amid frequent video chats. Make sure you are scheduling in regular short breaks away from the computer, and between video calls.
Don’t just reach for the phone or check social media when you’re having some time out either. Get up, stretch, and if you can, try to get outside for some fresh air and a short walk. By getting your blood pumping, you will give yourself that boost of energy needed to take on your next Zoom call with gusto.
5. Keep meetings shorter
Keep video meetings short and focused. Ideally, they should not run longer than an hour without a break. If it’s your meeting, set up a clear agenda; if it’s someone else’s meeting, ask for a summary.
6. Do eye yoga
Every 20 minutes look away from your laptop for 30 seconds.
- Rest your eyes with ‘palming’. Rub your palms together to get them hot and then press the base of your palms into your eyes, take a deep breath. This is to give the eyes a rest and wet themselves again.
- Work your focus muscles. Take a pencil, holding it in front of your eyes and focus on it. Bring it towards and away from your face. Let your eyes follow it in circular movements without moving your head, giving them the change to look in a different direction other than straight ahead.
- Face tapping. Gently with your fingers tap over your face once an hour to release tension, encouraging softness to the face.
7. Consider alternatives instead
Do you really need a Zoom meeting? Could you replace a video catch-up with a good old-fashioned phone call? Or would it be easier to send an email and share a file with detailed notes.