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All Zoomed Out: Combating Pandemic Zoom Fatigue

March 24, 2021
All Zoomed Out: Combating Pandemic Zoom Fatigue

So many of us spend our days on video conferences… and become exhausted even though we sitting still all day. Last week, VJLAP participated in a W&M School of Law, Health Law & Policy Society Event, “All Zoomed Out: Combating Law School Fatigue” with Dr. Judith Johnson a Licensed Clinical Psychologist at the law school and approximately 40 law students. Participants discussed their experiences with, reasons behind, and ways of coping with and combatting “Zoom Fatigue” and all that comes with it.

What is Zoom Fatigue?

“Zoom fatigue” has gone from a completely unknown term to a common complaint as people find that hours spent in virtual meetings often drains their energy and exhausts them. Many people find video conferencing requires far higher levels of concentration in comparison to in-person meetings. Human brains naturally try to interpret nonverbal cues and facial expressions, but this can be far more difficult when being done during a video conference. This is especially difficult and exhausting when you’re trying to interpret facial expressions via poor quality video or trying to understand someone’s tone of voice despite poor sound quality.

What Causes Zoom Fatigue?

Shortly before the W&M program, Sanford researchers released the findings on the impact of spending hours per day on video platforms. Simply stated, pandemic Zoom fatigue is real, and here are some reasons why:

  1. Excessive amounts of eye contact. The amount of intensive eye contact far exceeds what you would experience in real-life interactions. Zoom faces are typically larger and closer than you’d experience in real-life work discussions, which fool your mind into perceiving an intensely intimate conversation. “In effect, you’re in this hyperaroused state.” The fix: Minimize the face sizes of attendees, and sit back a bit to allow yourself more personal space.
  2. Watching yourself is exhausting. In real life, you are not followed by a mirror. Studies have shown that people are more critical of themselves when seeing their own reflection. The fix: Confirm that your lighting and setup look good, and then adjust the settings to hide your view of yourself.
  3. Nonverbal signals require more effort to send and to interpret. Your brain works much harder to send and receive cues through a screen. Multiply that into hours of exaggerated expressions and increased concentration, and your mind simply consumes more power. The fix: When it’s feasible, turn off your camera for breaks—and turn your body away from the screen.
  4. One place, one screen, all day. On Zoom, people sit immobile for hours on end. “There’s a growing research that says that when people are moving, they’re performing better cognitively.” The fix: Create a wider visual field for your camera. For example, an external camera often allows you more space to move than a laptop camera, because you no longer need to remain within arm’s reach of the keyboard.

Combating Zoom Fatigue?

There are some small changes that people can try at home now to improve their videoconferencing experience:

  • Hide self-view. On Zoom, you can right-click the video then press “Hide Myself.” Other videoconferencing software has similar options.
  • Use speaker view, especially when you are feeling fatigued.
  • Shrink the Zoom window to make other people a little bit smaller. Make it a third of the screen instead of maximized. Or you can place your chair a little farther away from the webcam.
  • Spend half an hour tinkering with your setup ahead of an important meeting. Check the lighting, figure out where to place an external camera, and make sure your chair is comfortable and at the right height. Maybe try placing your laptop on a stack of books to raise its height.
  • Turn your video off. Turn off your camera and take a five-minute audio-only break during a long meeting to give yourself a chance to move around.
  • Don’t multitask during calls.
  • Make sure your “work space” feels different from your “relaxing” space.
  • Take breaks. Schedule “quiet hours.”
  • Move throughout the day. Get some sunshine (Vitamin D is your friend).
  • Respect the learning/brain cycle. Do not push through hours on end of studying, etc. Breaks rejuvenates the brain (and you will retain more).
  • Protect your sleep schedule.
  • Practice self-care.

Be kind to yourself. Exercise self-compassion.

Resources:

  • “Nonverbal overload: A theoretical argument for the causes of Zoom fatigue,” Jeremy N. Bailenson (2021). Article.
  • “Stanford researchers identify four causes for ‘Zoom Fatigue’ and their simple fixes,” Vignesh Ramachandran (2021). Article.
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