"Zoom Fatigue" and Your Mental Health

By Megan Delano on October 21, 2020

In recent months, individuals are finding themselves in front of computer screens for nearly every aspect of daily life. Whether it be classes, work meetings, ordering delivery, or even doctor appointments, the use of video calls for connecting has become a part of daily life for many. Although the accessibility of technology has made daily work or school possible during the COVID-19 pandemic, it has not come without some harm to our health. Many of those who find themselves sitting in video calls for the majority of their day are experience a new phenomenon, commonly referred to as "Zoom fatigue."

Although video call platforms have been convenient for transitioning to remote learning and working, it has also presented some taxing issues for mental health amongst many. The concept of "Zoom fatigue" explains the physical and emotional response to a day of remote learning, working, and socializing. But why does it happen? There are a few reasons it feels more exhausting to engaging in a video call than it would to participate in an in-person meeting. One of the main causes of this exhaustion is the learning curb of interacting virtually without the norms or non-verbal communication or changing environments for different aspects of your day (i.e. working from an office as opposed to home). Below are some primary reasons daily video streaming and communication has proven to be more impactful on the mind than many expect.

  • Anxiety around technology use - Although video calls may temporarily relieve some aspects of social anxiety, they also increase anxiety around ability for it to work effectively. Any lag in call streaming poses the potential for the call to be dropped or delayed, increasing anxiety around proficiency.
  • It's easier to be distracted - The lack of change in environment makes it difficult for one's brain to change mindsets. For example, someone may be more productive in their office because they are there to do their job as opposed to their dining room where they also eat, cook, play with family, etc. Working from our homes adds the additional background distraction that is often removed when we commute to a different location.
  • People put in more effort to appear interested - Due to the structure of video calls, individuals feel more pressure to appear interested than they would with an in-person meeting. The absence of many non-verbal cues, the intense focus on receiving information and sustained eye contact can be much more exhausting than sitting in the classroom and taking notes or asking a peer for clarification.
  • There is a lot of information to take in - With the common use of video calls, we are taking in much more verbal information than in previous settings. As mentioned before, the lack of non-verbal communication, such as body language, forces us to rely heavily on what a person is speaking rather than taking in external information.
  • Less movement in the day-to-day - Without the routines of commutes or stopping at the gym after school, individuals find themselves much more stationary than ever before. The lack of transition between tasks makes the day feel longer in addition to more tiring.

Although video calls and remote meetings have proven to be impacting mental health negatively, there are many ways to combat this fatigue. Implementing small changes throughout your day can make a big difference on your attention, anxiety, and motivation. Below are a few tips to help assist with feelings of exhaustion throughout your remote daily routine.

  • Create transition activities in between video calls - Taking a break for stretching, getting outside or drinking water is not only good for your body but also your mind! This will help break up your day rather than feeling like it is one never-ending video call and provide a bit of a "reset" before you engage in your next call.
  • If possible, make some video calls, phone calls - Of course, this is not possible when it comes to classes and most work meetings. However, moving the shift from facetiming a friend to taking on the phone will allow your brain a break from screen time. This gives your brain the chance to focus on one voice without the added distraction of the video screen that you may be accustomed to daily.
  • Reduce distractions - Working or learning from home provides new levels of distractions that the classroom or office does not. Attempt to remove some of the distractions to increase focus on your calls. For example, even if a quiet room is not available in your home, you can make the visual space around your computer less cluttered, use headphones, or face away from the rest of the busy house.
  • Hide your own video from view - Much of our time on video calls is focused on the concern of whether we look interested enough or trying to somehow make eye contact with the speaker. Being able to view our own video adds an increased level of anxiety and distraction that can be removed. Hiding yourself from view (not turning your camera off!) helps the focus remain on the speaker as opposed to ourselves.
  • Make plans for screen-free time - With so much of daily life being lived through a computer or phone screen, it is important to schedule in time to step away from it. Whether it is a walk outside, a workout, or just reading a book, screen-free time is more important than ever for our mental health.

While the world adjusts to life during a pandemic, it is important to remember that your mental health can be greatly impacted by the numerous shifts in routines and "norms." Creating schedules, sticking to plans, and adding in daily moments of mindfulness can create a world of difference when it comes to remove learning or working. It is hard to remember to practice self-care when things become increasingly stressful, although ideally it should be of the highest priority.