Editor's note: This popular story from the Daily Briefing's archives was republished on Aug. 20, 2020.
Many people are using videoconferencing tools like Zoom to conduct business meetings and to connect with friends and family amid the new coronavirus epidemic, but as the virtual meetings fill calendars, some people are beginning to experience "Zoom fatigue."
So-called "Zoom fatigue" occurs when you're feeling tired, worried, or anxious because of the number of video calls you attend throughout the workday—and in your free time. According to Suzanne Degges-White, chair of counseling and counselor education at Northern Illinois University, these meetings can mess with our psychology.
"When we're on all these vide[o] calls all day long, we're kind of chained to a screen," Degges-White said. "It's just psychologically off-putting. I've got to show up again but the thing is, we're not really showing up anywhere."
Video conferences also can require more mental energy than a typical face-to-face meeting, according to Vaile Wright, director of clinical research and quality for the American Psychological Association. "It's this pressure to really be on and be responsive," she said.
For example, a video call requires you to remain in one position for the entirety of the meeting. You can't tilt your chair back or swivel it around. Instead, you're stuck positioning yourself in the middle of your computer screen—and if you move, your video could look awkward.
You also blink less when staring at a screen than you would in a face-to-face meeting, research suggests, which means your eyes are more likely to become irritated and dry. Along those same lines, Jeremy Bailenson, founding director of Stanford University's Virtual Human Interaction Lab, notes that video conferences put us in an unnatural position that requires prolonged eye contact and seeing a person's face enlarged on our computer screens.
"Our brains have evolved to have a very intense reaction when you have a close face to you," he said. And in typical, face-to-face conversations, "eye contact moves in a very intricate dance, and we're very good at it," Bailenson said.
Having a large number of video calls in one day also can make you feel like you don't get a break, Fast Company's Elizabeth Grace Saunders reports. While working in an office building, "[i]n order to get from one room to another, you had at least a few minutes of physical movement and a quick mental break," she writes. "Now, with videoconferencing, you literally have no time between meetings and go from one call to the next."
It can also feel awkward to see your own face during a meeting, and seeing yourself could cause you to change the way you act, according to Rhiannon Evans, a social scientist at Cardiff University. "All day, I see myself interacting with people," Evans said, adding, "It definitely consumes a lot more energy."
How to avoid 'Zoom fatigue'
Experts have offered several tips to avoid getting Zoom fatigue during the workday—and during your free time:
- Give yourself a break between meetings. Saunders suggested scheduling short gaps between meetings or wrapping up one meeting 5-10 minutes before your next one.
- Move your body. While you may not be able to get up and walk around during a video call, you can shift between sitting and standing using a standing desk or another surface during the meeting, Saunders writes. You also should get up and stretch or walk around between meetings to get your blood flowing, according to Saunders.
- Practice the "20-20-20" rule. Saunders also suggests looking at something other than a screen that's 20 feet away for 20 seconds every 20 minutes in order to avoid eye strain.
- Adjust how your Zoom call looks. Instead of trying to focus on everyone in a Zoom meeting at once, shift from gallery view to speaker view so you only have to focus on one person, Saunders suggests. You also can cover up the portion of the screen showing your face with a Post-It note so you're not distracted by what you look like. And, if you're uncomfortable with how you look on video calls, take some time to adjust your camera settings or the lighting in your house, Bailenson said.
- Not every call needs video. Sometimes it's easier to do a phone call instead of a video call, and it can be less stressful. "Be thoughtful about how you're using Zoom calls," Wright said. "You probably don't need video chat for all your work."
- Change your location. Try to make where you work feel different from where you live, even if it's in the same area, Degges-White writes in Psychology Today. For example, change the room's lighting once you're done with work or get rid of the coffee mug on your desk so you can create a boundary between your work and living space.
- Don't be afraid to say no. Finally, don't be afraid to turn down social invites for video calls, Sonya Dreizler, a consultant, told the Wall Street Journal. Dreizler said she's begun telling friends, "I just don't want to be on a Zoom happy hour right now. I hope you understand." She added, "Zoom fatigue is real" (Sugden, Wall Street Journal, 4/23; Miller, USA Today, 4/23; Grace Saunders, Fast Company, 4/15; Degges-White, Psychology Today, 4/4; Ogletree, Trade Show News Network, 4/15).