Written for Daily Hive by Martha Switzer, co-founder of Sprout Wellness.
My company, Sprout, is based in Toronto, but I am in Vancouver, so video conferencing has been our lifeline during the COVID-19 pandemic. Since we went into lockdown, I have been on more than 100 video calls with my team. It has allowed us to keep working, connect with friends, and see our families. So why are so many of us starting to dread our next Zoom call?
Yes, Zoom fatigue is a very real thing.
Fatigue has set in during the pandemic. There’s a lot to feel fatigued about — the blurring of lines between our home and work lives has left us exhausted. When there is no cue that work is done — like going to an appointment, hitting the gym, or a date with friends, our minds don’t know when to turn off. The uncertainty of the pandemic has left us fatigued, and so too has the constant need to be on video.
What is Zoom fatigue
It was after our first month of being in lockdown while adapting to a new way of living and working with the team that I started to dread going on video calls. As the co-founder of a wellness company, that made me feel anxious. I felt anxiety building up about the performative act of video meetings. That’s what Zoom meetings feel like — a performance. You feel as if you are always on.
You’re constantly engaged and it’s exhausting
Research shows that when you’re on video calls, you’re looking at yourself most of the time while working extra hard to pay attention to others. There’s also general ambience stress. You’re trying to make sure dogs, kids, and other people don’t interrupt your Zoom calls or show up unexpectedly. When you’re off mute, you’re aware that there may be other noises in the house that could interrupt you or make for a poor listening experience for your coworkers. It’s exhausting to watch yourself and monitor your surroundings with so many people on a call. There’s simply too much visual stimulation.
The green light dominates your focus
Fatigue sets in because you’re hyper-focused and hyper-aware that if you look somewhere other than the green light, someone might catch you and think you’re not paying attention. Without visual breaks from the screen, our minds grow fatigued. A simple trick is to look out the window or just above the computer so you get a bit of a break.
Nowhere to hide
There’s also the issue of privacy. While at work we are somewhat insulated from having to share our personal lives. We put boundaries around our personal lives, but with video meetings, your coworkers, some who you know well, others who you don’t, have a look inside your home. They’re peering into your personal life, breaking some of the boundaries you’ve set up.
Active but sedentary
While Zoom lets our mind dial in, our body is left behind, stuck in the chair. We know that a sedentary lifestyle contributes to increased feelings of stress, depression, and diminished well-being. A day spent on Zoom is draining not just emotionally but also physically.
Online, and little else
At the beginning of the pandemic when many of us were first sheltering in place, Zoom meetings let us feel a sense of normalcy and connectedness to our colleagues. Zoom parties were novel and fun. Now, with online activity dominating our lives, we have little time left over for other activities that bring us joy.
Paradoxically, skipping your next Zoom party is not the easy solution it at first appears to be. Avoiding video calls can mean that we are missing out on connecting with friends and family, who could help us feel emotionally reenergized. It’s a vicious cycle: Zoom fatigue is a barrier to the social interactions we need.
Tips to manage Zoom fatigue
With work-from-home, hybrid models of alternating days in the office, and physical distancing protocols in place for many businesses, reliance on Zoom will continue into the foreseeable future. And while Zoom isn’t going away, we don’t actually want it to. It’s a necessary tool. But in order to work effectively and manage our stress during a difficult time, we need to think about how we can ensure technology works for us, and not against us.
- Firstly, is that Zoom meeting really necessary? Some business leaders are now switching to pre-recorded videos that employees can watch individually. If a meeting is still necessary, how many people really need to be invited for the time to be spent effectively? Consider turning off the camera function to avoid the “talking head” distraction. Is the meeting just a one-on-one? Pick up the phone!
- That ties into the next point — try joining Zoom calls with your phone, rather than your computer, and go for a “walk and talk.” Enjoy the benefits of getting moving! A brisk walk will spark your energy and creativity.
- Book 10 to 15-minute buffers into your calendar. This ensures that you don’t have back-to-back-to-back Zoom meetings and gives you a short window of time to get moving. Exercise throughout the day is extremely important for both our physical and mental health.
- Let friends and family know that you will be spending some evenings offline. Share with them that while you care for them, you need some downtime. Being honest not only ensures that your relationships remain strong, but it also encourages others to follow your example and book downtime for themselves, which is something we all need to feel rested and recharged.
- For long calls, try to look away from the screen and let your eyes rest as much as they can, and make it okay to turn off your camera for even a few minutes.
Finally, it’s okay to say, “No, thank you, I’m at capacity today for socializing.” Most people understand that and are feeling the same way too.