Video Conferencing Fatigue

There’s a new buzzword in town and it may just be the one you were looking for to describe an inexplicable feeling of fatigue mixed with anxiety. It’s called “Zoom Fatigue” and its victims span all geographical boundaries and all age groups.

The Covid-19 pandemic has the entire world stuck in their homes, using one of many video conferencing apps like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, WhatsApp or HouseParty for communicating for both work and pleasure. Children who were until a few months ago chided for excessive screen time are now attending school, doing homework and celebrating their friend’s birthdays on video calls.

According to Zoom’s blog, the number of users subscribing to their video conferencing services has shot up from 10 million daily participants in December 2019 to more than 200 million in March 2020. What’s more, 90,000 schools across 20 countries are now using Zoom, which means kids as young as preschoolers are getting exposed to longer hours on the screen.

Clearly, if there’s one technological innovation that has come to signify our times, it is video chat!

However, all of the newfound and much feted work-from-home and learn-from-home options have come with their own set of problems. More and more people are reporting feeling tired in a way they haven’t ever before.

Gianpiero Petriglieri, an associate professor at Insead exploring sustainable learning and development in the workplace, said in an interview to the BBC, that video calls require more focus than face-to-face chats. In video calls, we are unable to use our full range of social cues, as we do in face to face discussions, resulting in fatigue. When we meet people in a social or work situation, we are able to understand many contexts and subtexts by just looking at the person we are speaking to. For example, we know if a client is receptive to our ideas or if a friend feels miffed about something we just said, simply by their tone or body language. These subtleties and nuances of conversation are lost when we interact via the screen. The extra attention we have to give due to technical barriers can become exhausting over time.

The Corona outbreak has also brought with it a downward spiraling of the economy with many fearing job loss or reduced work hours. This has put tremendous pressure on people to perform better than the next person or outperform even their own previous selves. This along with the absence of any downtime, as they would have with their colleagues in office corridors or by the water cooler when they went to work, means that they are always in high performance mode with no respite.

Edge Hill University’s cyberpsychology expert Dr. Linda Kaye believes that video conferencing calls also make us prone to anxiety about how we present ourselves. “This is enhancing our self-awareness to a greater level than usual, and therefore resulting in us making additional self-presentational efforts than in face-to-face interactions in the real world.”, she says.

When we are in a workplace or a classroom our eyes seek out visual relief from time to time for example we may look out of the window or shift our focus from one face to another in the room. This simply isn’t possible in a video conference. Watching people against a drab or neutral background, often in poor lighting can be taxing for the eyes and the brain.

Most of all, the fact that many of us now don’t have the dreaded commute and nowhere else to be, makes us overbook and over commit our video chat time. These sessions pile up to the point of mental and physical burn-out.

Since it looks like video chats and conferences will be here for a while longer, we have to find ways to stay productive and busy without crashing.

Build breaks into your day: Make sure you don’t pack your schedule with calls. Take frequent breaks to stretch out, be with your family or simply turn off all devices to read or cook.

Turn Video Off: Not all calls require that you be on video mode. Try to get off the camera, so you can relax.

Question the reason for the call: If something can be done via email or phone, do it that way. This will not only reduce your on -screen time, it will probably also be more efficient.

Pick up the phone: Pick up the phone and call someone, not for work but just to chat and connect. It can do wonders for your and the other person’s mental health to build some down-time into your week.

Take care of your mental and physical health: Long sedentary hours in front of the computer can lead to serious musculoskeletal problems as well as mental health issues. Make sure you exercise regularly and take multivitamins daily. If you suffer from any medical conditions, make sure you stay on top of test schedules and stay regular with your medications.

From the looks of it, our world may be circumscribed within the computer window for some time to come, but with some restructuring of our schedules and proactive care for ourselves, we should emerge from this crisis stronger.

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