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Zoom Fatigue – It’s taxing our Brains and here is Why
Can you relate to this?

Interestingly, I was preparing to write about burnout as a challenge to our ever busy work and lifestyle for this month, especially as we move into cooler weather and our bodies will be working harder to keep us warm and well. However, a newly present form of “burnout or fatigue” has become the latest tool in our life to manage.
Enter Covid 19, the pandemic that has led to massive and unprecedented changes to our lives as we know. Whilst we have an immediate need now to manage and support our mental health and wellbeing due to massive and fast change, another form of fatigue is knocking on our doors to review and manage. If you have used Zoom (or the like) the term you’ll be familiar with is Zoom Fatigue.
In my (anecdotal) research I have spoken to many people who have been staying connected with work, school, family and friends via Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Face Time, Skype and Google Hangouts, to name just a few options for video style conferencing. All are reporting the same outcomes; fatigue and exhaustion. Sure there is the setup and “get used to this new arrangement” phase, but this fatigue phase is just like the Corona virus; unprecedented. I hope these findings can answer some of your questions.

My initial thoughts, after my own experiences were this:

1. Yes, I feel really drained after the Zoom Conference/Call. My brain was empty and it felt like I was working twice as hard to take in the information being shared as well as remaining engaged with my Zoom “participants”.

2. It is more challenging to connect and concentrate than being a face to face meeting. I cannot see everyone all the time or their reactions.

Whilst Zoom and the like have enabled us to keep in touch with colleagues, education, family and friends, (and this has been absolutely fantastic in the midst of a pandemic that has locked us down and left us with little to no interaction with other humans), it is hard not to wonder what the impact of this excessive “screen time” is doing to our psyche.

So, thank you National Geographic for your research, I have had my experiences confirmed and here is why. I share a summary of the points that have been raised in this unofficial social experiment.

In April 2020, a teacher in the US was interviewed and reported that she felt completely exhausted after teaching her students via a Zoom class. The topic is one that has previously been taught face to face and given her the opportunity to gauge her students reactions in person as well as verbal interaction.

Her comments were:
“It’s almost like you’re emoting more because you’re just a little box on a screen”.

“I’m just so tired.” “It (Zoom) is exhausting,” she shared.

Whilst being able to continue her work as a teacher, connect with friends and family, join her arts and crafts group and meet her colleagues on Friday afternoons to catch up and check in, the (Zoom) experience is taking a toll.

Extracts from National Geographic Article

The unprecedented explosion of their (Video Conferencing) use in response to the pandemic has launched an unofficial social experiment, showing at a population scale what’s always been true:

“There’s a lot of research that shows we actually really struggle with this,” says Andrew Franklin, an assistant professor of cyberpsychology at Virginia’s Norfolk State University. He thinks people may be surprised at how difficult they’re finding video calls given that the medium seems neatly confined to a small screen and presents few obvious distractions.

Zoom gloom

Humans communicate even when they’re quiet. During an in-person conversation, the brain focuses partly on the words being spoken, but it also derives additional meaning from dozens of non-verbal cues, such as whether someone is facing you or slightly turned away, if they’re fidgeting while you talk, or if they inhale quickly in preparation to interrupt.

These cues help paint a holistic picture of what is being conveyed and what’s expected in response from the listener. Since humans evolved as social animals, perceiving these cues comes naturally to most of us, takes little conscious effort to parse, and can lay the groundwork for emotional intimacy.

However, a typical video call impairs these ingrained abilities, and requires sustained and intense attention to words instead. If a person is framed only from the shoulders up, the possibility of viewing hand gestures or other body language is eliminated. If the video quality is poor, any hope of gleaning something from minute facial expressions is dashed.

“For somebody who’s really dependent on those non-verbal cues, it can be a big drain not to have them,” Franklin says.

Prolonged eye contact has become the strongest facial cue readily available, and it can feel threatening or overly intimate if held too long.
Multi-person screens magnify this exhausting problem. Gallery view—where all meeting participants appear Brady Bunch-style—challenges the brain’s central vision, forcing it to decode so many people at once that no one comes through meaningfully, not even the speaker.

These cues help paint a holistic picture of what is being conveyed and what’s expected in response from the listener. Since humans evolved as social animals, perceiving these cues comes naturally to most of us, takes little conscious effort to parse, and can lay the groundwork for emotional intimacy.

However, a typical video call impairs these ingrained abilities, and requires sustained and intense attention to words instead. If a person is framed only from the shoulders up, the possibility of viewing hand gestures or other body language is eliminated. If the video quality is poor, any hope of gleaning something from minute facial expressions is dashed.

This leads to problems in which group video chats become less collaborative and more like siloed panels, in which only two people at a time talk while the rest listen. Because each participant is using one audio stream and is aware of all the other voices, parallel conversations are impossible. If you view a single speaker at a time, you can’t recognize how non-active participants are behaving—something you would normally pick up with peripheral vision.

For some people, the prolonged split in attention creates a perplexing sense of being drained while having accomplished nothing. The brain becomes overwhelmed by unfamiliar excess stimuli while being hyper-focused on searching for non-verbal cues that it can’t find that you would normally pick up with peripheral vision.

Tips to Avoid Zoom Fatigue

If you’re feeling self-conscious or overstimulated, turn off your camera and save your energy for when you absolutely want to perceive the few non-verbal cues that do come through.

If you are finding the video call too much, revert to a telephone call. The traditional telephone call can be less taxing on the brain as the brain knows all it needs to convey is a voice.

Save your energy for when you absolutely want to perceive the few non-verbal cues that do come through, such as during the taxing chats with people you don’t know very well, or for when you want the warm fuzzies you get from seeing someone you love.

My favourite!
If and where possible go for a walk to do your catch up or meeting. I appreciate not appropriate for all meetings and not for more than one other. A one to one walk could be an excellent way to catch up/check in or connect with a colleague and move your body.

Create “Zoom Boundaries” and attempt to schedule video calls in the afternoon and keep them to a time frame that you can manage. This will be different for each person.

Technology has provided many Positives

On the whole, video chatting has allowed human connections to flourish in ways that would have been impossible just a few years ago. These tools enable us to maintain long-distance relationships, connect workrooms remotely, and even now, in spite of the mental exhaustion they can generate, foster some sense of togetherness during a pandemic.
It’s even possible Zoom fatigue will abate once people learn to navigate the mental tangle video chatting can cause.

Research/Reference
https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2020/04/coronavirus-zoom-fatigue-is-taxing-the-brain-here-is-why-that-happens/