Reducing Zoom Fatigue
By: Melissa Nunes-Harwitt, L.M.S.W.
"Zoom fatigue" is a phrase that appeared early in the COVID-19 pandemic, as social events, health appointments, concerts, work meetings, dates, performances, and even family dinners moved online to facilitate physical distancing. In some cases, people began spending eight hours or more per day online in one-on-one or group meetings. This increased use of Zoom or other web-based videoconferencing technology1 was correlated with a number of symptoms including exhaustion, anxiety, or feeling overwhelmed. Researchers have identified and evaluated this weariness, noting that it increases with greater daily use of Zoom. Here are five factors that have been identified as possible reasons for Zoom fatigue.
The default setting in Zoom includes an image of yourself as well as the other participants. In person, there is rarely a way to see what you look like while speaking. Seeing your own face on the screen is like having a mirror next to your friends or coworkers at all times. Looking at yourself for extended periods of time makes you vulnerable to feeling down and is associated with increased anxiety and depression. This effect is even stronger in women2.
Movement is associated with creativity, learning, and overall performance. Face-to-face interactions include movement that you may not even notice. People may gesture, cross their legs, or move their chair back without reducing their ability to participate or be seen. On camera, any of these movements may change your ability to be seen. In an online group meeting however, movement while someone else is speaking can draw unwanted attention. As a result, using Zoom can lead you to maintain unnatural stillness that requires constant physical effort.
The faces we see on screen often seem extremely near, with foreheads or chins sometimes outside of view. Professor Jeremy Bailenson points out that seeing another person’s eyes close up in-person represents intimacy or conflict, neither of which are comfortable for professional or casual encounters. Maintaining eye contact adds to the pressure. Eye contact is brief in-person; in groups, the speaker can only look at one person at a time and frequently shift where they are looking, while individuals look at each other more but still glance in other directions regularly. On Zoom, the lack of peripheral cues leaves the eyes as the main point of contact.
Cognitive Load of Producing Nonverbals
Communication is much more than the content of what is said, which is why texting has a reputation of leading to misunderstandings. In person, you constantly “listen” to many nonverbal messages including facial expressions, body position, tone and volume of voice, and physical proximity. On camera, nonverbals are confused due to the time lag and imprecise “eye contact,” ambiguous because you don’t know how well the other person can hear you, and eliminated when you can’t see the person’s body or gestures. People work harder over Zoom at consciously producing nonverbals: speaking loudly, nodding more, and monitoring facial expressions.
Cognitive Load of Interpreting Nonverbals
There is added strain and stress over Zoom from our inability to read other people’s cues. The panel of windows in a meeting makes it impossible to tell who is looking at you at any given moment. Someone’s interruption or pause may be due to a technology lag. Taking turns in conversation becomes much harder.
Knowing that these contributors to Zoom fatigue are common may provide validation of your experience and decrease self-criticism, as well as provide possible solutions. Activities that can help:
- Research instructions specific to your device and get in the habit of turning off your image at the beginning of each Zoom session. It will feel unfamiliar at first but can become the norm if you do it regularly.
- Look for opportunities to switch meetings to phone calls so the visual element is not a factor.
- Incorporate movement into your day as much as possible, including brief stretches between meetings and short walks at the beginning or end of the day. There are small lower-body exercises that can be done imperceptibly while on Zoom, as long as they will not interfere with your listening or participation.
- If you are a manager, consider normalizing the practice of having people participate with screens off, at least some of the time.
If Zoom fatigue causes ongoing problems for your work or personal life, please remember that Behavioral Health Partners is here to help.
Behavioral Health Partners is brought to you by Well-U, offering eligible individuals mental health services for stress, anxiety, and depression. Our team of mental health professionals can accurately assess your symptoms and make recommendations for treatment. To schedule an intake appointment, give us a call at (585) 276-6900.
1 In this article, videoconferencing technology will be referred to generically as "Zoom".
2 The studies referenced assessed women and men using a gender binary without including nonbinary people or measuring any effects of being cis or trans.
Fauville, G., Luo, M., Muller Queiroz, A.C., Bailenson, J.N., Hancock, J. (2021, April 14). Nonverbal mechanisms predict Zoom fatigue and explain why women experience higher levels than men. SSRN. DOI: 10.2139/ssrn.3820035
Bailenson, J.N. (2021, February 23). Nonverbal overload: A theoretical argument for the causes of Zoom fatigue. Technology, Mind, and Behavior (2)1. DOI: 10.1037/tmb0000030.
Wei, M. (2020, November 14). 10 tips to prevent Zoom fatigue. Psychology Today.
Keith Stein |