Why Virtual Communication Can Leave You Worn Out
Communicating online may cause more stress than connection.
Posted April 15, 2020 | Reviewed by Hara Estroff Marano
More than ever, we are reaching out online and communicating virtually. Remote communication is essential to combating loneliness and feelings of isolation. It’s also the best means we have for connecting and working together during the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, communicating this way can have drawbacks. If you are feeling like all those online calls and video conferences seem to be leaving you drained by the end of the day, it’s not just you—virtual fatigue is real.
Below are five reasons you may be feeling worn out and tired by virtual communication.
With Zoom or FaceTime, for example, you can’t rely on body language for communication in the same way you might when talking with someone in person. Sometimes there are sound delays and it can get stressful in communicating or repeating yourself constantly. It can sometimes also be difficult to pick up on inflections in peoples’ voices, which can make it challenging to understand the fullness of what others are trying to communicate. It also makes picking up nuanced forms of communication like sarcasm harder to detect.
For those with social anxiety, Zoom or FaceTime makes it harder to draw boundaries. People get to see into your environmental context, where you live or are staying.
This isn’t just about physical surroundings; it’s also more difficult to control interactions, especially if you are staying at home with others. For example, a person who works at an office likely has more control over the surroundings. Yet, when working from home or socializing from home virtually, there’s a greater chance that others, like a spouse or child, may drop in and interrupt accidentally or even on purpose.
Another reason all those online calls and conversations may be leaving you feeling tired and sluggish is because social cues become less clear. It can be hard to know when “socializing” should end and the work or primary purpose of the call should shift. Certain social cues that are easily read in real life like boredom or frustration can be harder to read virtually. Because of this, it’s common for people to feel pressure to fill silences and converse.
Further compounding the awkwardness of communicating remotely may be that you and the person you are talking with are struggling to know when to transition from small talk into something more substantial. When it comes to connecting virtually, a lot of people approach virtually socializing with the assumption that the purpose of the call is to just talk and catch up. This can leave you feeling like you are having conversations online that don’t seem to be going anywhere. In many cases, people are reaching out more often online for virtual communications as a way of addressing feeling lonely, not necessarily because they need to discuss a particular topic or issue.
Feeling worn out and drained by virtual communications may also be in part to how you are hard-wired. The benefits of digital hangouts are the flexibility and accessibility to connect with one another. Digital hangouts have fewer technical barriers to socializing (e.g., finding a place to meet, the cost of transportation). However, it would be presumptuous to say that digital hangouts are correlated with a finite result of well-being.
Anxiety and stress manifest in people differently, and while there are common symptoms, the subjective experience cannot be neatly confined. If digital hangouts are causing crippling social anxiety, perhaps an alternative form of communication may serve better. If a person’s anxiety is at a functioning level and the benefits of socializing outweigh or fosters positive behavior, then perhaps a gentle push outside of the comfort zone can be helpful. If this describes you or someone you know, another approach is to turn off the video function if possible. Changing video settings is another practical approach to reducing online social anxiety, like lowering lighting or changing filters to buffer image.
There is no perfect formula for how you should connect with people or how often you should connect. Everyone feels connection differently. For some people, texting is enough for them to feel socially engaged, while others may need an audible and visual connection to be satisfied in their social life. Just because people have moved to digital hangouts doesn’t mean your social boundaries have to change.
Overall, we need to be proactive and creative in fostering virtual social connections during this time of isolation. But we also need to make sure that how we are communicating doesn’t make things worse. This is why understanding the social drivers that may be causing you to struggle is important, now more than ever.