Have you experienced any discomfort using new communication tools for the past 10 months (hint hint)?
Zoom conferences are the new norm since the start of covid-19 pandemic and these days, you are probably spending way too many hours seating still, staring at your screen. But the continuous use of any of the video conferencing software tools demand our full attention and we, human beings, are not yet properly wired for that matter. At the end of the day, some of us may feel exhausted, worried, irritable and, or anxious. For the most severe ones, it can even lead to a burnout and disastrous health issues. This, is the zoom fatigue.
The following infographic shows the huge rise of videoconferencing apps download in March 2020. Today, Zoom (only) daily active users are about 300 millions and counting!
Source: more infographics at Statista
So what causes zoom fatigue and how to fight it?
We are not wired for that:
- Remember this: 1 hour on zoom is the emotional equivalent of a 3 hours person to person!
- Our brain is able to process images much faster than sound. And our brain’s visual attention system is challenged when it has to cope with multiple 2D faces (gallery), presentation and lagging or bad sound.
- Seating at our desk, bed or sofa throughout the day is definitely not a good thing. Studies show that fatigue or risk of fatigue can be lowered by 40% through normal physical activity.
- The boundaries of your private and work space is gone. Everything happens at the same place. Will you remember to turn off the mic when speaking to someone in your home or talking to yourself? Do you feel comfortable with others seeing your interior? Did you choose the right background? these questions illustrate the fears some of us have and there are plenty of zoom bloopers on the net to reinforce that feeling.
- Cognitive demands of participants increase dramatically with the use of webcam communications. This is severely taxing our brain and attention due to the fact that our minds seem to be together (you hear the voices) while our bodies are not (it’s only you in 3D).
It’s all about the sound, dummy!:
Video chat is new more or less a new thing and our brain is not yet used to it nor trained at it (unlike our phones). Twenty years or so and the promise of a seamless real life communication is still not here. Moreover, silences, lags, choppy conversation puts you on a defensive side without you even noticing it. A lag of 1,2 second is enough to trigger that mechanism. And by the way, did you notice the following truth:
“A meeting without video is still a meeting; a meeting without audio is cancelled”
Did you notice too that none of those apps work well when we all try to speak at the same time (unlike in real life)? Our brain can not process this remote issue, we don’t know who or when we can speak because we have no clue when someone will.
‘When listening to natural sounds, the brain connectivity reflected an outward-directed focus of attention; when listening to artificial sounds, the brain connectivity reflected an inward-directed focus of attention, similar to states observed in anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder and depression”
Researchers at Brighton and Sussex Medical School (BSMS)
The non-verbal cues:
Ever tried to see a raise of an eyebrow amongst your fellow colleagues while on zoom? Good luck with that! During the videoconferencing, what you’ll see from your discussion partner is his face or up to his shoulder. And in general, camera resolution is far from being perfect. Hence all the non-verbal cues such as gesture, body language, hands, arms, they all disappeared from your peripheral vision, leaving your brain unable to instantly decrypt someone’s intent. Researches show that without these cues, we are unable to bond or assess our communication partner. This situation requires from us to compensate and heavily concentrate on one task and one single person at a time (again, unlike real life).
“Our brains are used to picking up body language and other cues, not to mention increases of dopamine, that are experienced during face-to-face communication. On a video call, something is off and our subconscious brain is reacting to that. Communication isn’t in real time, even though we may think it is. »
Professor Wiederhold is registered as a Licensed Clinical Psychologist with the California Board of Psychology
The informal catch-ups have disappeared:
Remember when you used to chit chat with colleagues, walk and interact with them? Well, now it’s only you and your computer (😊 this is sad, right? ). These moments were used to discuss a few things before a meeting. Well, guess what: these insignificant moments are known for fostering your creativity as well as problem solving. I’ll let you think about this one for a moment.
Looking at your own image is stressful:
The first challenge with these news ways of communication is to look at the camera and not yourself when speaking to others. Who cares about your wrinkles right?? 😊
Afterall, when speaking to or in front of someone, you do not see nor search for your own reflexion. Easier said than done. Unconsciously we will try to look our best and put on a show or some kind of performance, or on the opposite, try to hide. It is very difficult if not impossible to get proper eye contact through these tools.
What if conference call were the real life (and that is only 3 minutes long!! Imagine the whole day)
How to fight zoom fatigue:
Few ideas to reduce zoom fatigue and your stress:
- It is advised to have regular breaks even for a few minutes, and ideally every 45 minutes, a 5 minutes would be welcome by anyone. Step away from the screen or any other device to clear you mind, stretch yourself and have a quick walk to the (physical) mail box for instance. Never go above 1,5 hours without a break of at least 15 minutes.
- Allow for cameras to be turned off – there is no need for the cameras to be constantly on. This will remove the distraction of looking at the gallery and rather concentrate on the sounds. It will also ease the attention deficit from that side.
- Avoid multitasking – try to stay focus on the speaker’s voice. Put away other screens and possible distraction. In real life you would probably tell a joke to your neighbor or whisper something or even text on your phone.
- Find a cozy place and everything you need to reassure you, make yourself comfortable and at ease.
- Limit your daily video conferencing interaction to 6 hours per day with built in breaks.
- Take an hour break from technology. Go for a run, a walk in a park, forest even better if you can. Just GET OUT! And no cheating – no phone or surfing the web while walking.
- Switch to good old phone calls if you need to continue working
Video conferencing has proven essential since the beginning of the covid-19 pandemic. But Sometimes, you can have too much of a good thing. Clear boundaries must be drawn to preserve your health, intimacy but also avoiding taxing your brain.
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- Roberts F, Francis AL. Identifying a temporal threshold of tolerance for silent gaps
- after requests. J Acoust Soc Am. 2013;133(6):EL471-EL477.