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6 Healthy Videoconferencing Habits to Prevent Zoom Fatigue

New research finds self-view and “mirror anxiety” can make Zoom fatigue worse.

Key points

  • Seeing oneself on camera via self-view can worsen "Zoom fatigue," especially if one has dissatisfaction with one's appearance.
  • Experiencing "mirror anxiety" on videoconferencing may be reduced by minimizing the self-view window.
  • Zoom fatigue may be harder on people who don't feel a sense of belonging to the group on a videoconference call.
 Anna Shvets/Pexels
Source: Anna Shvets/Pexels

New research suggests viewing self-video can be more draining for some than others. Factors like “mirror anxiety” and a lack of a feeling of belonging to the group can make "Zoom fatigue" much worse the day of and after.

Fatigue from videoconferencing or virtual meetings has become known as “Zoom fatigue,” videoconferencing fatigue, or virtual meeting fatigue. Zoom fatigue has been attributed to issues related to digital video communication, including difficulty with detecting body language or microexpressions, sound delays or interruptions, and a loss of a sense of place or context. More recent research has found additional factors can worsen Zoom fatigue. This research can inform how to find healthy adaptive habits for virtual meetings, especially as working remotely or hybrid with videoconferencing is here to stay.

Recent research has shown that seeing oneself on camera self-view can be draining, particularly for people who are unhappy with the way they look on camera and are dissatisfied with their appearance. Concern about how one appears to others has been called “mirror anxiety” and can contribute to more anxiety and exhaustion on and after videoconference calls.

In one study, published in The Journal of Applied Psychology, researchers conducted a four-week field experience with 103 employees and found that virtual meeting fatigue was higher for people who kept their cameras on compared with those who had them off during video calls. The study found that this virtual meeting fatigue not only affected same-day performance but also next-day performance.

A second new study published in Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking discovered that people who were more dissatisfied with facial appearance had worse virtual meeting fatigue. Women were more likely to experience this type of Zoom fatigue factor compared to men. This supports previous research that found seeing oneself on self-video can worsen facial dissatisfaction and trigger body image issues, suggesting a downward spiral effect. An increase in self-view on videoconferencing in the past few years has been one factor in the recent increased demand for cosmetic surgery and procedures.

We are constantly and actively being shaped by our digital interactions and the increase in videoconferencing and the more sedentary nature of working remotely likely has an impact on our bodies and our brains, which are "neuroplastic.” We can take an active role in how we choose to conduct and interact with virtual meetings. We have the ability to adapt our behavior in light of this new research in a way that protects us from and reduces Zoom fatigue. These changes can help improve our videoconferencing conditions for ourselves and for others, especially if we are in leadership or management roles that can influence how videoconferences are conducted.

With that in mind, here are six healthy virtual meeting/videoconferencing habits:

1. Make as small as possible the display window of your self-camera view and place the primary visual focus on the other participants or group members.

Putting the other participant(s) as the focus of the videoconference is useful for attention and to reduce the possibility of mirror anxiety or appearance dissatisfaction. Turning off the camera reduces this risk more completely but sometimes there are meetings in which this is not possible.

2. Close out other unnecessary windowshaving multiple browsers and/or monitors visually active has been shown to be more distracting and cause “cognitive overloading.”

Media multitasking, a known consequence of surfing the internet with multiple tabs and windows open, can reduce the depth of attention and focus on an individual item. An effective way to address this to keep the focus on the meeting is to close out or minimize windows and monitors and reduce your focus to one screen during a call, if possible.

3. Convert video calls to phone calls when possible to give yourself a break. Many meetings are just as effective on the phone rather than joining by video. Another possibility suggested by some researchers is to use a digital avatar during the meeting instead, which would minimize dissatisfaction with one's appearance. This feature is available on some media platforms and may become, over time, more acceptable and commonplace for purposes like work meetings. If it's a new feature that people aren't used to yet, it may be more distracting at first, but will likely become more familiar and less novel over time.

4. Take scheduled breaks regularlyaway from the screenin order to improve focus and productivity.

If you do find yourself more fatigued from video calls, take scheduled breaks regularly. Even microbreaks, which are under two minutes, can be helpful. Research has long supported microbreaks during the workday and also longer 10- to 15-minute breaks. Taking a brisk walk or stretching in between virtual meetings can also be useful.

Take proactive steps to block out these short and long breaks on your work calendar. This step may improve your overall well-being, including physical tension in the body. A study examining physical discomfort in people working at computers found that microbreaks of two minutes every 20 minutes reduced discomfort, especially in areas of the body like the spine and shoulders. Implementing short breaks can improve productivity and prolong endurance across industries, from people working at computers to surgeons in the operating room.

5. Practice daily mindfulness exercise or focused meditation for one-minute breaks and 10 minutes a day.

Breaks away from a screen are especially important for the body, eyes, and mind to rest. This is a good time to implement a daily mindfulness practice and routine, which I have discussed creating in previous posts including mindful walking and breathing or yoga for stress reduction.

6. Reflect on what you can do to improve a sense of belonging on a videoconference call.

A recent study of a group of 55 employees over 279 videoconference meetings found that the thing that protected people the most from videoconference fatigue—other than turning the camera off—was if people felt that they had belonged to the group in the meeting.

This may be the most surprising new finding. A sense of belonging to the group on the call is the most protective factor for reducing Zoom fatigue (other than having the camera off). This suggests that leaders and managers can help reduce Zoom fatigue for everyone by making sure participants feel welcome and that they belong to the meeting.

If you were wondering why you are feeling especially exhausted after a virtual meeting, ask yourself: Did you feel like you belonged to that group on the call? If the answer was no, think about what, if anything, might be done to improve that sense of belonging.

We are continuing to learn more about the impact of working remotely and videoconferencing, and this research continues to highlight how we can adapt and maintain healthy digital habits.

More information can be found here: 10 Tips to Reduce Zoom Fatigue.

Marlynn Wei, M.D., PLLC Copyright © 2022.

References

Shockley KM, Gabriel AS, Robertson D, et al. The fatiguing effects of camera use in virtual meetings: a within-person field experiment. The Journal of Applied Psychology 2021; 106:1137–1155.

Ratan R, Miller, DB, Bailenson, JN. Facial Appearance Dissatisfaction Explains Differences in Zoom Fatigue. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Network. Nov. 25, 2021. https://doi.org/10.1089/cyber.2021.0112.

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