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How to combat ‘Zoom Fatigue’

Globally, the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed many of us into a virtual space - virtual meetings, virtual hang-outs, virtual birthday parties - you name it and it’s virtual. “Zoom Fatigue” is a new phenomenon that’s gained traction now that so many people are spending time at home during this social isolation/quarantine period. Long story short, the Zoom experience is taking a toll. The unprecedented explosion of video-calling interfaces in response to the pandemic has shown us (at global scale) what’s always been true: virtual interactions can be extremely difficult on the brain - but there are ways to combat the negative effects and get the most out of your video-calls. 

Why “Zoom Fatigue” is Taxing the Brain

The way we communicate with one another is much more complicated than we might think. During an in-person conversation, the brain focuses only partly on the words being spoken, but it also retrieves additional information from many non-verbal cues, such as whether someone is fidgeting while they talk, how close they are sitting to you, whether someone is facing you, and so on. These various cues help tell us what is being conveyed and what’s expected in response from the listener. Humans evolved for this type of interaction so perceiving these cues is second nature for most of us and comes with little effort and ease. 

However, video calls makes this extremely difficult, if not impossible. A video call requires intense attention to the words being spoken because it is hard to view hand gestures and other body language when we are only seeing the recipient from shoulders up. Looking/listening at a screen all day can also cause mental/brain fog, we blink less when staring at the screen, which makes our eyes irritated and dry, and it can be awkward/distracting to see your face for hours on end. Multi-person video calls actually exacerbate this exhaustion because it challenges the brain’s central vision of having to focus on so many people at once, the end result being that no one comes through meaningfully. Overall, the brain becomes overwhelmed by unfamiliar excess stimuli and constantly searching for non-verbal cues that aren’t easily identified. 

The Positive Aspect of the ‘Zoom Phenomenon’

There is a positive side to everything if you choose to look at life that way. For instance, video chatting has been a saving grace for so many and has allowed us to have human connection on-demand, especially when in-person connection is not an option. We can have long-distance relationships, work remotely from home while being with our families, and catch-up with our grandparents and others who are the most isolated during our current situation. New technology and ways of communicating are nothing short of miracles - we just have to be mindful of how we adapt to new circumstances in a way that is most beneficial for our mental and physical health.

5 Ways to avoid (or recover from) Zoom Meetings

Although we can’t change the circumstances we are in, we can change how we show up during the workday and during our free time to avoid Zoom fatigue. Here are 5 tips to help with your back-to-back video calls.

  1. Move Your Body - Get up and stretch or walk around between meetings and get your blood flowing! We aren’t meant to be sedentary 24 hours a day - I recommend getting up every 45 minutes for a walk or stretch. You can also shift between sitting and standing or using a standing desk (or another surface like your kitchen counter) during a meeting.

  1. Practice the “20-20-20” Rule- Look at something other than a screen that’s 20 feet away for 20 seconds every 20 minutes in order to avoid eye strain. This will also help anchor you back into the present moment and make you feel more grounded throughout the day.
  2. Adjust your Zoom Call View - Instead of a gallery view where you can see everyone at once, shift to speaker view so you only have to focus on the person speaking. Also, if it is distracting to look at yourself for hours on end, use a Post-It note to cover up that portion of the screen.
  3. Switch up your Location - Try to make where you work feel different from where you live. This might sound a little difficult if you live in a studio apartment or other small space, but it’s as simple as changing the room’s lighting once you’re done with work, taking away the blankets and extra pillows during work hours (this will also help with posture and alertness.) My favorite thing to do at the end of a work day is light my Serena Loves Candle - it makes me get in that zen space so I feel relaxed and ready for bedtime.

You can always say NO - One positive thing about this pandemic is people are and will become more understanding and empathetic of one another’s mental health and the importance of prioritizing it. We live in a culture that rewards people who don’t sleep, and people are constantly go-go-go, but this time has shown us that slowing down and tuning in has to have a place in our lives. With that being said, don’t be afraid to turn down social invites for video calls. In addition, if you constantly have work calls on Zoom and are feeling overwhelmed - turn your video off and just do audio for a less draining experience - just show up the best you can depending on the day.

XO - Serena

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