The COVID-19 pandemic has moved our lives into a virtual space. Why is it so exhausting?
Fatigue does not feel earned. We are not flying an airplane, teaching young children, or rescuing people trapped in burning buildings. Still, at the end of the day, the feeling is so universal that it has its own name: Zoom Fatigue.
Stanford University professor Jeremy Bailenson, founding director of Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Laboratory, has some answers. In research published Tuesday in the journal Technology, Mind and Behavior, describes the psychological impact of spending hours every day on Zoom, Google Hangouts, Skype, FaceTime, or other video calling interfaces. It is the first peer-reviewed article to analyze zoom fatigue from a psychological perspective.
There are four main reasons, according to Bailenson, why video chats tire us so much. And it proposes some easy solutions.
We are too close for comfort
Think of the normal meeting. You may be looking at the speaker. Or maybe you’re noticing those fancy new blinds, your colleague’s weekend tan, or the traffic on the streets below.
But on Zoom calls, everyone looks at everyone, all the time. And our faces may seem too big.
When so many faces are so close to ours in real life, our subconscious takes it personally. He tells us: They want to fight or choose a partner. “What’s happening, in effect, when you’re using Zoom for many, many hours, is that you are in a state of hyperarousal,” according to Bailenson.
Solution: Exit the full screen option to reduce the size of the face. Use an external keyboard to create a comfortable space between you and the masses.
We really hate looking at ourselves
For most of us, that quick morning glance in the mirror is all we really need. After hours of looking at ourselves, we become critical. We noticed that sloppy shaving job. The backward haircut. The dead plant on our left shoulder. Or maybe the light is off, casting deep shadows, and we look like members of the witness protection program.
“It is exhausting for us. It’s stressful, ”Bailenson said. “There are negative emotional consequences for looking in a mirror.”
Solution: Use the “hide self view” button, which you can access by right-clicking on your own photo, once your face is properly framed in the video.
We are trapped in a chair
Humans are restless creatures. During phone calls, we like to walk around. Even if we are stuck in a meeting at a conference table, we find ways to stretch out: reclining in a chair or looking thoughtfully at the ceiling. But with video conferencing, we are limited by the narrow field of view of the camera.
This is both physically and mentally buffering. “There is growing research that says that when people move, they perform better cognitively,” Bailenson said.
Solution: An external camera further away from the screen allows you to scribble, release neck tension, do a seated turn, or fidget, just as you do in real meetings. Turning off the video periodically during meetings is a good rule of thumb for groups, creating a short non-verbal break.
We cannot see body language, so it takes more energy to communicate
At best, gatherings can act like subtle symphonies, with everyone harmonizing their stances, laughter, and knowing looks. We read the signals of others. Conversations have a rhythm.
Not so with Zoom. There is a stiffness, with only one speaker at a time. We must listen carefully to complete the sentence, so as not to interrupt. To make an important point, we must add drama and style.
“If you want to show someone that you agree with them, you have to give an exaggerated nod or put your thumb up,” Bailenson said. “That adds cognitive load, as it uses mental calories to communicate.”
Solution: During long periods of meetings, give yourself an “audio only” break. Don’t just turn the camera off, move your body away from the screen. Look at that wall that needs paint, or the birds outside the window. Maybe hang up some clothes, even wash some dishes.
Want to measure your own Zoom fatigue? Because many organizations, including schools, large businesses, and government entities, have approached Stanford communication researchers to improve video conferencing setups, the team responded by devising the Zoom Exhaustion and Fatigue Scale, or ZEF Scale, to Help measure burnout in the workplace. The goal is to help change video technologies to reduce stressors.
To take the survey and participate in the research project, go to: https://stanforduniversity.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_3xGmOOvQ5YZlaZM