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What is Zoom Fatigue and How Can We Deal with It?

By Anisa I | Monday, August 22, 2022

When you’re with friends, you engage in conversation by taking turns, pointing at things, and seeing each other’s body language. But in a zoom meeting, you can’t do that naturally so you try to look at the screen as much as you can to catch everything, and that’s exhausting. Especially in online classes where you have to pay a lot of attention or you’ll fall behind in your studies. This is called “Zoom fatigue”, and no it doesn’t happen just on Zoom, it happens on any video call platform. Communication Professor Jeremy Bailenson, founding director of the Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab (VHIL), examined the psychological effects of spending hours per day on these platforms and identified four consequences of prolonged video chats that he says contribute to the feeling commonly known as “Zoom fatigue.” So what are they?

1) Excessive amounts of close-up eye contact is highly intense.

You’re looking at the faces of everyone in the call, not just the speaker, which is very different from in-person meetings with your friends or classes where you can look elsewhere. So while you’re looking at the faces of everyone they’re also staring at you and that’s stressful.

“Social anxiety of public speaking is one of the biggest phobias that exist in our population,” states Professor Bailenson. “When you're standing up there and everybody’s staring at you, that’s a stressful experience.”

Is there a solution? Yes! You can take Zoom out of the full-screen option and reduce the size of the Zoom window relative to the monitor to minimize face size, or just look at your teacher’s window (the person who’s speaking) but not all your classmates. That way the faces of everyone else are smaller so you don’t stare at them and get stressed as much.

2) Seeing yourself during video chats constantly in real-time is fatiguing.

“Most video platforms have a window where you can see yourself on camera.. But that’s unnatural,” Professor Bailenson says.

“In the real world, if somebody were following you around with a mirror constantly – so that while you were talking to people, making decisions, giving feedback, getting feedback – you were seeing yourself in a mirror, that would just be crazy. No one would ever consider that,” he adds.

Studies report that when you see yourself constantly you are more critical of yourself and try harder to be and look better, which makes you even more exhausted and stressed.

What can we do instead? Easy, just hide your self’s camera from your view. That way you don’t see yourself and constantly overthink things. I do this, and it works out great!

3) Video chats dramatically reduce our usual mobility.

In real life when we talk, we often move around and don’t stay looking at the same thing all the time. This is especially true of neurodivergent students who fidget a lot, and in zoom meetings, you have to stay in the same place so the camera and everyone can see you. And that is even more exhausting.

“There’s a growing research now that says when people are moving, they’re performing better cognitively,” Professor Bailenson says.

Some solutions to this problem can be putting the camera further away from you so you can doodle, fidget, and learn the same way you do in school and meetings. Also turning your camera off so you can get up and move around periodically is a great tip too!

4) The cognitive load is much higher in video chats.

In the physical world, nonverbal communication is quite natural and each of us naturally makes and interprets gestures and nonverbal cues subconsciously. But in video chats, we have to make more of an effort to send and receive these signals. We have to nod and give a thumbs up in a more exaggerated way and be sure our faces and hands are all showing well on camera. We can’t look away from the screen because others may think someone has entered the room and it’s exhausting to be overthinking every small little detail. Especially in online tests where if you move a little to the side unknowingly, it can be marked as cheating.

One good solution can be to turn off your camera for a minute or two and answer questions while not looking at the screen so you’re more natural. Of course, you likely won't be permitted to do this for online tests, but for classes and Schoolhouse tutoring sessions, go ahead!

When your zoom meetings are over, go ahead and get up from your chair and move away from your desk. Don’t just continue to work on your computer instead, but take a break from the “zoom fatigue” you’re likely experiencing, and remember to keep yourself hydrated and get enough sleep!

Together we can combat this problem, and always remember in Schoolhouse you can choose not to use your microphone or camera at all or turn them off at anytime, so you can fight “zoom fatigue” and stay healthy and learn at the same time! How neat is that?

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