On my fourth zoom meeting I kept my video off. It was strangely calming not to have others see where I was looking or looking at me.
No matter how many times I’ve written about the level of fatigue I feel it still seems unbelievable, inconceivable that such a thing could exist. But it’s real. I have Post Exertional Malaise – Malaise being a fancy French word for what I experience as exhaustion. It’s a symptom that some people experience with fibromyalgia/chronic fatigue. Without going into the theories of what causes it – any energy expenditure – physical, mental, emotional, including intense focus – exhausts me, often for days.
Zoom meetings are now added to the list of what exhausts me. Distractions, during in-person conversations which are relegated to background, swirl around in the foreground of my brain: The small audio delay contributes to people talking over each other or weird silences, visual cues are distorted or magnified, people fiddling with controls, some sitting too close, some too far from cameras, background noise . . . exhaust me but I thought too weird to admit to anyone. judy
Low and Behold when I read this article it was a hallelujah moment!
What’s ‘Zoom fatigue’? Here’s why video calls can be so exhausting
by Ryan W. Miller
“As social distancing remains in effect across the country during the coronavirus pandemic, people are moving from one video call to another. But there may be an unintended effect, mental health and communications experts warn: “Zoom fatigue,” or the feeling of tiredness, anxiousness or worry with yet another video call.”
Why are we all experiencing ‘Zoom fatigue’?
“From having to focus on 15 people at once in gallery view or worrying about how you appear as you speak, a number of things may cause someone to feel anxious or worried on a video call. Any of these factors require more focus and mental energy than a face-to-face meeting might”, said Vaile Wright, the American Psychological Association’s director of clinical research and quality.
“It’s this pressure to really be on and be responsive,” she said.
According to Jeremy Bailenson, the founding director of Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab, the platforms naturally put us in a position that is unnatural. A combination of having prolonged eye contact and having someone’s enlarged face extremely close to you forces certain subconscious responses in humans.
“Our brains have evolved to have a very intense reaction when you have a close face to you,” he said.
During normal, in-person conversations, “eye contact moves in a very intricate dance, and we’re very good at it,” Bailenson said. When one person looks one way, another changes where they look. A small eyebrow raise from someone at one end of the room can trigger a glance between two people on the other. But typically, we don’t stare into our colleagues’ eyes, up close on a computer screen, for an hour at a time.
So much of human communication is through these nonverbal cues that can be either lost or distorted in a video conference.
“In a way, we’re closer but we’re still communicating through this weird filter, so it gets tiring to get to the real stuff through this filter,” Degges-White said.
For video calls with old friends or virtual family reunions, the forced structure can create different challenges.
“A lot of us are thinking I want social stuff to be fun and having to be locked in front of this computer … it’s just not how I want to be spending my time,” Bailenson said.
Degges-White described it creating a structure to conversation like email. One person speaks and everyone takes their turn and waits to reply.
“That’s not normally the way we do social interactions,” she said. “It’s not that easy give and take.” Side conversations are lost. Some people who are naturally reserved may never get a word in. Others may get distracted by people in their house.
The context of this happening during the coronavirus pandemic can’t be lost either, Wright said. We’re worried about loved ones but apart from them physically.
How do you combat the ‘Zoom fatigue’?
- Set ground rules before a call. ‘Can we just go audio only?'”
- Only the person speaking has their video on. And at least for one meeting a week with his team, he says they all keep video on the entire time to have that shared sense of being together.
- If you’re uncomfortable with how you look on camera, it’s worth spending time adjusting your settings and trying different lighting in your house,
- If you notice one person not very responsive or always turning their video off, check in with them one-on-one. Some people don’t like to speak up in large groups.