Zoom Fatigue: Don't Let Video Meetings Zap Your Energy

Some "cheats" to help you beat Zoom fatigue before it beats you.

Posted Apr 04, 2020

Many of us are locked down in our homes with only laptop, notebook, and phone screens to keep us connected to our social support networks and to keep us engaged in our professional duties or academic responsibilities. We are likely spending more time in front of a screen—and likely in painfully ergonomically incorrect chairs—than at any other time in our lives.

Physical Strain Plus Emotional Exhaustion

Of course, it’s not just the heavy-duty, commercial-grade screen time that is undermining our mental health. The power of a pandemic is to raise our fear and paralyze us in our tracks. The “invisible monster” under the bed, the nagging fear you get when you hear a sound late at night that you can’t place, those are the ways in which fear of the unknown enemy typically show up in our lives. Not as an incurable virus that is racing across the country that we can’t yet stop nor are we able to arm ourselves against until a vaccine or treatment is proven effective.

When this type of anxiety becomes a part of your daily life, you may not realize just how stressed or tense you’ve become until something happens to trigger an uncharacteristic response. Maybe you snap at your partner when she suggests taking the dog for a walk around the neighborhood right after you’ve read another terror-fueling news story. Or maybe you get overly harsh with your child when they start begging again to have a friend over, but you’ve just heard about another case or death in your community and your own fear level is through the roof. While it’s important to temper our interactions with others, manage the ways in which we express our emotions, and remember to be kind, it’s normal to experience whatever emotions are bubbling up during this unprecedented time.

Social Exhaustion in a Time of Social Distancing

But when you’re on your sixth Zoom or Teams or Skype meeting of the day or you’re hanging out with your friends for a virtual dance party or with colleagues for a virtual happy hour, you are likely to feel a kind of exhaustion from that screen time that's unlike the exhaustion you’d feel from an hour at the gym. Even extroverts can feel worn down by the “high-intensity virtual connecting.”

Part of the craziness now is that our homes are now our workplaces and our screens are our sole connection to folks beyond our household. This can make us feel like “living headshots” since all we can do now to project our identity is a thumbnail image of our faces.

Not only does Zoom zap our energy and our brains, but it also beats down our bodies. From a numb butt to an aching back to a dull, throbbing headache and eye strain, hours spent in one position at furniture never designed for long-term sitting can leave us feeling cranky, achy, and a lot worse about life than if we had a breakroom to roam over to visit, face-to-face chats and gossips with coworkers, and an evening commute during which we could decompress and shed our work identities as we morphed into our social and relational identities.

Cheats to Help Zap Zoom Fatigue

  1. Use your phone, not your computer, to call into some of your meetings. It can be less stressful when you “show up” in voice only. When we’re not chained into posing as a “living headshot,” we can move around and step onto our porch or sit outside in the sunshine. How many of us tend to doodle at meetings? Stare out the window? Make mental to-do lists or grocery lists? When we’re a face on a screen, it’s hard to get away with a little inattention. Cut yourself some slack and “phone it in” next time. Your overstrained eyes and the muscles you use for that “attentive meeting participant face” will thank you.
  2. Don’t schedule back-to-back meetings. Give your brain a chance to switch gears between meetings.
  3. Take a break away from the screen between meetings and get fresh air, a glass of water, or do some jumping jacks or a quick 10-minute brisk walk—inside or marching in place.
  4. When you’re tuning in to a business meeting, use your phone and focus on listening and taking paper-and-pen notes rather than doing “double screen duty,” when you can. Taking notes by hand has been shown to increase retention in the classroom, so take a lesson from this and focus on what is being said. Multiple video conferences in one day tend to blur into one another, just as the days do. By focusing on what is happening and writing legible notes as you go, you’ll be able to stay focused and retain what is being shared.
  5. Make sure that your “home office” feels different from your “living area,” even if it’s the same space. Change the lighting when you go “off-the-clock” and change the playlist and ditch the coffee mug from your desk. When you feel you’re working 24/7 and are unable to leave the office to see friends, having tricks to help you feel that there’s a boundary between work and play can be important.

While no one is sure just how long we’ll be encouraged to do our jobs remotely or keep our distance from those beyond our own household or whether or not masks will become as ubiquitous in the U.S. as water bottles and smartphones have become, we do know that it is key to prioritize your own personal well-being. Look out for your physical health and your mental health, as well. The world is truly shaping its new normal, and you need to do all that you can to make a personal commitment to embracing the behaviors that will keep you moving forward and allowing you to be as good a resource for others as you can.