7 Strategies to cope with 'Video Call Fatigue'

Are your days filled with video meetings for work, video chats with family and friends, web appointments with doctors, online conferences for parent-teacher matters, and more?

A term popping up is 'Zoom fatigue', which refers to the exhaustion that follows video conference meetings. Obviously, this isn't specifically about the Zoom platform, you may use Microsoft Teams or similar. The point is that the overload of video conferencing is leaving people feeling stressed, anxious, depressed, and exhausted.

Video conferencing allows us to stay socially connected with family and friends and to work remotely with colleagues and provides an incredibly useful service. As the world transitions to an era in which the future of work is likely to be increasingly hybrid, it's important to be thinking now about how to maximise the benefits of video calls while reducing the psychological costs.

5 REASONS YOU FIND VIDEO CONFERENCING CHALLENGING

In a 2021 study involving 10,591 people, researchers from Sweden and Stanford University confirmed what we’ve all experienced to some degree - video conferencing can be draining. The team of scientists reveals that video call fatigue is more pronounced in women than men, and they point to five specific brain-related reasons why video calls are so exhausting.

1. MIRROR ANXIETY

Anyone who has used video conferencing has come face-to-face (or rather, face-to-screen) with their own image - either in one of those little boxes or full-screen - and it can cause something referred to as “mirror anxiety.” This is basically the anxious feeling produced from constantly seeing yourself and paying attention to how you look.

Consistent with psychological research on self-focused attention and negative affect, women experienced more mirror anxiety associated with the self-view in video conferencing than men did. Research shows that self-focused attention can heighten vulnerability to negative affect and has been associated with increased anxiety and depression.

2. FEELING PHYSICALLY TRAPPED

When you’re in an in-person meeting, you’re free to move around a bit - lean in, stand up, stretch, and more. Or if you're like us, we prefer walking meetings wherever possible. The challenge with being glued to a screen is that you're basically stuck in one position so that you can be seen appropriately on screen. Physical restriction has been shown to diminish creative thinking and cognitive performance. For some people, this may feel like a virtual form of claustrophobia.

3. HYPER-GAZE

In the same study, the researchers suggest that hyper-gaze - having all those virtual eyeballs constantly staring at you - is anxiety-provoking. During in-person meetings, people may glance at you from time to time, but with video conferencing, it's constant eye contact. In a one-on-one meeting, the person’s head might take up the majority of the screen, making it feel like they're in your personal space or bubble. In real life, getting up close like this might seem confrontational or too intimate. Either way, it can be a stress-inducer. 

4. COGNITIVE LOAD OF INTERPRETING NONVERBAL CUES

A substantial portion of our communication is nonverbal. On-screen, you can miss out on crucial nonverbal cues when all you see is someone's head and shoulders. In a real-life meeting setting, you would notice people’s body language, such as emphasising a point with hand gestures, crossing their arms, tapping their toes nervously, and so on. Without these clues, your brain has to work overtime to grasp the underlying intent and meaning of what is being said.

5. OVEREMPHASIS OF YOUR OWN NONVERBAL CUES

On the flip side, you may feel the need to overemphasise your own nonverbal cues in response to others or while you’re speaking. You may consciously think about making exaggerated hand gestures so others can see them. This requires increased brainpower and energy and can leave us feeling fatigued. 

As anyone who has been on Zoom or Teams knows, these aren’t the only reasons why video conferencing can be so exhausting. Add in tech glitches, having to deal with distracting background noise, and getting no feedback or delayed feedback while talking, not to mention a high-stakes meeting, and you get a recipe for heightened stress.

man doing exercises while on conference call

7 WAYS TO REDUCE VIDEO CONFERENCE STRESS AND ANXIETY

In the wake of the pandemic and the shift to increased remote working, it looks like Zoom and other video conferencing platforms are here to stay. Understanding the possibility of video conferencing fatigue and making a few adjustments in your daily usage could be helpful for you.

1. HIDE SELF-VIEW

If you have trouble with mirror anxiety, some video conferencing platforms offer an option to hide your self-view, which allows others to see you but prevents you from seeing yourself. If you’re really struggling with anxiety about video conferencing, it may be time to seek professional help.

2. TAKE MINI-BREAKS

Looking away from your computer screen for several seconds or briefly opening a document or your calendar to block all those faces for a brief moment can give your brain a short respite. The general rule for eye health is 20/20/20 - taking a visual break every 20 minutes for 20 seconds and change your focus to something about 20 feet away. You might have to find a tactful way of breaking your gaze away for quick breaks to prevent eye strain and increased fatigue.

3. GO WIRELESS

To minimise the size of your own face on the screen, use a wireless keyboard, which allows you to sit farther away from your webcam. This may help reduce self-consciousness.

4. STAND...OR SIT...OR WALK?

Consider a standing desk that you could move up or down during calls so you can have some ability to alternate from sitting to standing to alleviate feelings of being stationary and trapped. One of our team members has his workstation positioned above a treadmill so he can walk and work at the same time. When it's a quick catch-up amongst team members, we're all fine with his head bobbing around slightly as he takes a leisurely stroll. 

5. CHANGE YOUR VIEW

If all those eyeballs staring back at you creep you out, try “speaker view” instead of “gallery view.” By contrast, if seeing one person’s face full-screen in speaker view is alarming to you, switch to the gallery view. Or you may find that switching back and forth from speaker to gallery view may give your brain a break.

6. CREATE A ROUTINE

To reduce the stress and anxiety associated with video conferencing, stretch or practice deep breathing before and after video conference calls. This can help calm your mind and body. If you're on back-to-back calls, try to leave a few minutes between calls to stand up, walk around, grab some water, or pop outside for a quick bit of fresh air. 

7. TURN YOUR CAMERA OFF

Where appropriate, depending on the nature of the meeting, turning your camera off can be a great solution. It is becoming increasingly common for people to have their cameras off on calls. Alternatively, if you can schedule a phone call and go for a walk while talking this can be a great solution to the problem of prolonged sitting as well as screen fatigue. 

Reference: 

Fauville, Geraldine and Luo, Mufan and Queiroz, Anna C. M. and Bailenson, Jeremy N. and Hancock, Jeff, Nonverbal Mechanisms Predict Zoom Fatigue and Explain Why Women Experience Higher Levels than Men (April 5, 2021). 

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