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Zoom Fatigue and How to Combat It

Socializing on Screens

Work meetings, happy hours with friends, and “seeing” family have all been relegated to Zoom (ZM) and other video conferencing platforms over the past month. Many people have felt drained by the onslaught of virtual interactions. Counselors, psychologists, and scientists have explanations for why this is happening.

The experience of feeling exhausted after hours of video calls has been dubbed “Zoom fatigue.” Counselor Suzanne Degges explained it by saying, “When we’re on all these video calls all day long, we’re kind of chained to a screen…It’s just psychologically off-putting.”

Nonverbal Cues Lost in Translation

Video calls can induce more worries and pressure than in-person interactions because they often require more focused attention—an “unnatural” amount, says Jeremy Bailenson, Director of Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab. Prolonged eye contact and an up-close view of another person’s face can feel threatening or overly intimate to the brain.

Important nonverbal cues associated with traditional communication can get distorted, or can disappear altogether through video chatting. Hand gestures are lost through the medium, and in-person eye contact isn’t easily replicated when mediated by a screen. The forced structure of video calls also means that side conversations are lost. Additionally, it can be hard for people to fully focus on video calls when they are distracted by what is happening in the real world around them at home.

Video calls also have some upsides. For people with neurological difficulties that impair in-person exchanges, video calls may help temper the feeling of being overwhelmed by multiple people talking at once.

How to Deal with Zoom Fatigue

Overall, video chatting still gives people opportunities to connect when meeting in person is not possible. Though the tools might feel overwhelming, a few simple strategies can ease the burden of video-calling for hours on end.

Vaile Wright, the American Psychological Association’s Director of Clinical Research and Quality, suggests taking regular breaks away from the computer between calls, and, if possible, designating separate physical spaces for work calls and personal calls.

If the video aspect of the call isn’t essential, it can be helpful to make it audio-only, and to walk around while talking. “Walking meetings are known to improve creativity, and probably reduce stress as well,” says Claude Normand, a researcher at the University of Québec Outaouais.

When video calls are essential, looking and feeling good can help them feel less stressful and fatiguing. Propping a laptop on a stack of books so the webcam is at eye level, adjusting lighting, and sitting back from the camera in order not to look distorted can help video calls feel more natural and normal during this abnormal time.

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