Applied Psychology

Zoom Fatigue

Jul 08, 2020 | By Saranne Durham
zoom-fatigue

Our screen-time has increased exponentially and it isn’t to indulgently binge watch our favourite series. Rather, it’s a necessary attempt to find a “new normal”. Many more people are working from home. Friends are trying to stay connected to each other, while socially distancing. And virtual birthday parties have us eating cake together, albeit in each of our own homes.

“The lack of non-verbal cues means our brains are continuously hyper-focused as they search for information that’s not there.”

Zoom fatigue is real.  If you’re using Microsoft Teams, GoToMeeting, Skype, Google Hangout or any of the other online meeting platforms, there’s a familiar feeling we’re all getting to know: A fuzzy head that feels like it’s continuously being stuffed with cotton wool, accompanied by a deeper tiredness at the end of your day.

Why do we feel like this?

When we’re talking to someone, our brain is processing information from our verbal conversation as well as non-verbal cues. The slight nod by a colleague as you unpack an idea, the vacant expression creeping in as you outline the Rinderpest to a teenager or a quick gulp of air as someone starts to say something but stops. It’s a lot of information to process at once – we do it all the time, without thinking, and most people do it well. Our brains are endlessly putting together an all-around assessment of the verbal and non-verbal information relayed to us by the people we’re interacting with.  

From all the information we subconsciously accumulate, we create a fuller picture of what’s being discussed and who we’re meeting with. From this all-around assessment, we gauge the interest of someone, their apparent knowledge of a topic or how truthful we perceive their story to be. Additionally, in an in-person meeting, we have the added advantage of being able to have a quick side conversation to clarify something or catch us up after we’ve been distracted.

“Zoom fatigue is real.”

During a video call, a lot of non-verbal information is lost. As a result, many of the social cues we are used to getting, just aren’t there. If the video feed is bad or there’s a time lag, there is even less information accompanying our conversations. A study has shown that delays of as little as 1.2 seconds, give us the perception that the other person is less focused or friendly than we want them to be.

Amidst all of this, our brain still seeks to fill in the gaps. It’s constantly trying to glean information, put missing pieces together and give us as much of an all-around completed dossier as it can. Our cerebral cortex is key to our attention span, perception and awareness as well as memory, thinking and logic. This continual attempt at hyper-focused decoding is tiring. Essentially, we are multitasking incessantly, without our brain really succeeding in what it’s trying to do. Leaving us with what feels like an overstimulated, aching cerebral cortex.

How can you fix it?

5 Practical ways to decrease Zoom fatigue:

  1. Start to single task: During a video call, it’s often tempting to multitask. However, your brain is already multitasking, as it scrambles for non-verbal information to match your verbal cues. You need to stop trying to reply to a WhatsApp or quickly send off an email. Instead, practice being present and fully participating in what’s happening through your screen.
  2. Schedule breaks: If you would have had body or stretch breaks during an in-person meeting, keep them. Not being in a meeting together doesn’t negate the need for taking a break. In fact, you are probably going to need them now more than ever to help you stay focused.
  3. Stretch and jiggle: After a call and before your next task, stand up, stretch your arms out, do a little jiggle and move around a bit. While you do this, close your eyes and let them rest from your screen for a bit.
  4. Dedicate workspace: Physically separate work and downtime space. If you’re lucky, you can have a dedicated area to work in. If not, then take the time to pack away as much of your work things as you can at the end of the day. Thereby creating an “out-of-sight, out-of-mind” scenario for yourself. This will send a clear message to your brain of when it’s time to focus and when it’s time to relax.
  5. Keep hydrated: Your brain needs water to relay information and make connections between things. The more hydrated you are the better you function.

“Actively decrease your fatigue by implementing these 5 practical steps.”

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