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Zoomed Out

Several of us attend our virtual meetings and classes from a home office or even our bedroom. Photo credits RHN Team Picture Bank

Several of us attend our virtual meetings and classes from a home office or even our bedroom.
Photo credits RHN Team

Before March, many of us had never even heard of the now very popular and widely used Zoom application. With over 300 million users a day, Zoom is used for class, work meetings, organizations, and even social gatherings. The global pandemic has led society to resorting to remote learning and working– meaning we may spend several hours on Zoom, or possibly another video chat application, every day. Several of us attend our meetings and classes from a home office or even our bedroom. If we’re logging on from the comfort of our home, what is the exhaustion that comes with these video calls?

While we process a great deal of information and social cues consciously, we subconsciously do the same, and our brains work even harder when we’re online. We feel that we have to focus on the topic at hand intensely and, maybe more importantly, consistently look engaged. It’s almost like straining ourselves to look focused rather than actually to be focused. When we’re in person, things are much different, and natural social interactions take the space that has now been replaced with an imminent, virtual, awkward presence. During in-person meetings, we whisper to the person next to us, exchange glances between classmates and coworkers, look around, etc. Unfortunately, if someone looks away from the screen during a virtual meeting, it is easy to perceive them as inattentive, though it is natural to look elsewhere.

Besides the shift in social cues, nobody is used to their picture staring back at them. Self-adjustment is huge in virtual meetings. We’ve never had the experience of seeing ourselves during a meeting, so naturally, many of us tend to focus on how we appear over the video call, which causes a great sense of hyper-self-awareness that only enhances our exhaustion. This goes back to the aim of looking focused. Not only are we too focused on ourselves, but non-verbal communication is almost nonexistent over video chat. It is difficult to tell if someone is looking at you as there’s not even a proper way to make eye contact. Awkward silences, accidental interruptions, and a lack of nonverbal cues have become standard at meetings.

From another perspective, it’s quite easy to lose focus during meetings or classes. It’s common to want to check an email, text a friend, look over other work, and tell ourselves it’s multitasking when in reality, we are distracted from what is being discussed. In general, it isn’t easy to sit for long periods and absorb everything through a computer screen with the artificial human interaction that is a video chat. We also tend to lose even more interest once the inevitable technical difficulties start kicking in, like a frozen screen, a lag, or microphone troubles, as these are disruptive in the engagement of a virtual meeting.

With the way that we have to work harder to read social cues over video chat, maintain a consistent gaze, and stay aware of how we look– we associate video chat meetings with discomfort and fatigue. So how can we combat Zoom burnout? Here are six tips to help you prevent it:

  1. Say no to meetings that are not of value and make social meetings optional. Many people have organizations or club meetings via Zoom or other video chat applications, and others have resorted to virtual social gatherings. While this can be a nice way to see people, it can be as equally exhausting as a class or meeting, so it’s good to stay mindful of your boundaries and know when to say no.
  2. Keeping meetings as short as possible and consider other methods of delivery. Not every meeting has to be an hour or longer. It is helpful to send out some material beforehand, whether it is slides or reading material, to save time and efficiently work through the meeting. Alternatively, it may be wise to replace video-chat meetings with asynchronous videos to deliver material and, perhaps, limit virtual meetings to once a week for interactive purposes. In addition, employers can limit the use of Zoom by sending detailed emails or utilizing other methods of communication aside from video conferencing.
  3. Hide self-view. If you struggle with staring at your own video and incessantly self-adjusting, utilize this option as it may create a more natural environment in which you stress less over your facial expression and how you appear to others.
  4. Allow or encourage members to have their cameras turned off. It may even be an option to only have the camera on when speaking, but off otherwise. This encourages a more comfortable space for many due to the anxiety that comes with constantly looking at yourself.
  5. Avoid multitasking. Doing multiple things while on Zoom will only hurt yourself, and while it’s easy to stray away from what’s at hand, it’s important to be as present as possible. To resist the urge to check that email or glance at the online sale, try taking notes during your meeting as it will provide you with a hands-on activity.
  6. Schedule screen-free time for yourself. It’s important to have certain blocks of time in your day in which you do not look at your phone or computer and take time for yourself to combat the fatigue. After a long day on the computer, be sure to spend time with the people you live with, read, go for a walk, or try yoga!

It is important to know that you’re not alone in feelings of resentment towards virtual life in general, but always remember to prioritize yourself and cater to your own needs, especially after logging off.

For more information about burnout and mental health, see HGIC Burnout, and HGIC 4376, Coping with Stress and Mental Health.

References:

  1. Fosslien and Mollie West Duffy, L., & Duffy, M. (2020, August 14). How to Combat Zoom Fatigue. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2020/04/how-to-combat-zoom-fatigue
  2. Hickman, S., Alidina, S., Seppälä, E., Hauck, C., Staff, M., Maldonado, M., . . . Newman, K. (2020, April 17). Zoom Exhaustion is Real. Here Are Six Ways to Find Balance and Stay Connected. Retrieved from https://www.mindful.org/zoom-exhaustion-is-real-here-are-six-ways-to-find-balance-and-stay-connected/
  3. Lee, J. (2020, July 27). A Psychological Exploration of Zoom Fatigue. Retrieved from https://www.psychiatrictimes.com/view/psychological-exploration-zoom-fatigue
  4. Morris, B. (2020, May 27). Why Does Zoom Exhaust You? Science Has an Answer. Retrieved from https://www.wsj.com/articles/why-does-zoom-exhaust-you-science-has-an-answer-11590600269

If this document didn’t answer your questions, please contact HGIC at hgic@clemson.edu or 1-888-656-9988.

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