Zoom Fatigue

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As video conferencing technology has become a more normalised part of our working and social life, so too has “Zoom Fatigue” – the exhaustion caused by extended periods of online video conferencing. With increased Zoom Fatigue in our post-pandemic world, studies are finding unique reasons as to what causes this phenomenon. In other words, this isn’t just the usual “screen fatigue” we have grown accustomed to hearing about. So if you’re finding yourself unmotivated and drained after a day of online catch ups, you are definitely not alone, but don’t worry – there are things you can do to ease the mental exhaustion.

Subtle differences in Zoom interactions increase our cognitive load… ultimately causing fatigue

Besides the obvious fact that it takes place virtually, there are a few subtle differences between our Zoom experience and face-to-face interactions, which have been shown to contribute to fatigue. According to Stanford Professor of Communication, Jeff Hancock, there are three main characteristics of video conferencing which give rise to our exhaustion:

Digital Mirror

Looking at the little version of yourself on the screen as you interact with others is extremely common, but it also leads to what the experts called self-focused attention. This causes overthinking and ultimately increases our cognitive load… leading to fatigue.

Trapped in the Screen

As we interact on camera, we are also trapped in a way that’s different from a face-to-face interaction. Unlike in an office space or social setting, we are unable to move around in a flexible manner, meaning we are generally stuck in one place to maintain the image on the screen. People also have a tendency to believe everyone is looking at them in the interaction, also contributing to this trapped feeling. As such, our cognitive load again increases… contributing to exhaustion.

Unnatural Social Exchange

Whilst an impressive form of technology and extremely useful during the pandemic, video conferencing apps do lack certain social features that humans have grown accustomed to in face-to-face interactions. Obvious examples of this include the lack of eye contact due to camera and screen placement, a 60-80 millisecond lag, 2D visuals which aren’t 100% realistic, and an unnatural placement of faces either closer or further away from what an in-person interaction would look like. These characteristics often trigger a physiological response in us… leading to further fatigue.

Women are disproportionately affected by Zoom fatigue.

Using the recently developed Zoom Exhaustion and Fatigue (ZEF) scale, Jeff and colleagues found that women are more affected than men by video conferencing in all aspects of the data, including physical, social, emotional and motivational fatigue. Professor of Neuroscience at the Florey Institute, Julie Bernhardt, also stresses that women are impacted more, namely because they tend not to control how long they spend on Zoom. Her studies found people were experiencing fatigue after about 4 hours on video conferences, yet some people, particularly women, were spending up to 8 hours on Zoom in a single day.

As well as women, young people and extroverts have expressed more fatigue in recent studies compared to their counterparts, namely due to feeling trapped or over expressing during the interactions.

Adjusting the way you interact on Zoom can lessen exhaustion

Despite its prevalence, there are certain ways individuals can use Zoom to lessen their fatigue, according to the experts. Getting an external webcam, keyboard or stand up desk so you aren’t trapped at a laptop, giving yourself time between each meeting, as well as turning off the digital mirror, can all minimise the amount of exhaustion one feels. Outside of the video interactions themselves, mindfulness has been recognised as a massive aid in the fight against Zoom Fatigue. Apps like Insight Timer and Headspace offer a great introduction to the art of mindfulness, or you can learn mindfulness with a professional.

Zoom and similar technologies are a convenient way to interact, and show no sign of becoming obsolete, so it’s important to recognise our own feelings of exhaustion as we use them. Knowing you aren’t alone in feeling overwhelmed after Zoom sessions, and putting steps into place to lessen this exhaustion, will ultimately help reduce or eliminate Zoom Fatigue.

Source: ABC. (2022). Zoom Fatigue is real. Here’s how to prevent it.

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