What is Zoom fatigue and how to prevent it?

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A woman sitting in front of her computer, with her hands on her head, looking tense

Virtual meeting platforms aren't a new concept. Yet, before the pandemic, a few of us were using them regularly. These days we are logging into video-conferences five times more than before. According to Polly, on average, we now spend 10 hours a week in virtual meetings, compared to just 2 hours before the beginning of 2020. 

It's no surprise that a rapid increase in video-conferencing has affected our well-being. People have begun reporting feeling fatigue and anxiety due to such meetings. The phenomenon received the nickname of Zoom fatigue. Recently, scientists confirmed that Zoom fatigue isn't just in our heads. Prolonged video-conferencing does make us tired.

So, how can you prevent feeling drained after meetings? In this article, we share some common causes and tips on how to stop Zoom fatigue.

What is zoom fatigue?

Have you ever noticed your anxiety level going up before a virtual meeting? Or felt drained right after? If it sounds familiar – chances are you've experienced Zoom fatigue.

Zoom fatigue is a feeling of both physical and mental exhaustion, general tiredness, and anxiety related to online meetings, especially if they involve using a camera.

Let's get one thing straight – we shouldn't blame Zoom for this. The term "Zoom fatigue" came after the platform's popularity peaked at the beginning of quarantine. So, no matter which video-conferencing platform you use – you can still feel Zoom fatigue. That's why switching from Zoom to Google Meets wouldn't help.

Who can be affected by Zoom fatigue?

Zoom fatigue can affect any of us, regardless of age, gender, or work field. It all comes down to several factors: how often and for how long you have to interact in video-meetings. 

However, a recent study observed a gender disparity – women are more likely to experience Zoom fatigue. Also, anyone who has just joined an organization or a new team is more prone to feel exhausted due to virtual meetings. There are various reasons why that may be the case. 

The research has shown that women experience more anxiety associated with their self-view in video calls. Also, they may feel more pressure than men to engage and perform better. Similarly, newcomers may feel the need to put extra effort to prove their worth and build new connections.

Zoom fatigue vs. burnout

With remote work's challenges in mind, it's fair to consider that Zoom fatigue could just be burnout. While these two conditions may share similar signs and symptoms, they shouldn't be confused. 

The main difference is that Zoom fatigue is related to the virtual working environment. It can be mediated by taking the effort to recover or simply limiting your time spent in virtual meetings. 

However, if unaddressed, Zoom fatigue can lead to a much bigger problem – burnout. 

Burnout is a type of chronic work-related stress. It causes emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion. Burnout affects every aspect of our lives and lowers the ability to complete work tasks and take care of ourselves. 

Symptoms Zoom fatigue and burnout

While Zoom fatigue and burnout aren't considered to be medical conditions, they can be recognized by these common symptoms and signs: 

  • Eye strain, irritation, and soreness
  • Blurred and double vision
  • Feeling unusually tired after the workday
  • Anxiety 
  • Trouble focusing and forgetfulness
  • Muscle pain and tension
  • Fatigue between calls
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches or migraines
  • Feeling sweaty or overheating during calls
  • Low productivity
  • Lack of motivation
  • Mood changes
  • Cynicism
Infographic on symptoms of Zoom fatigue

Symptoms of Zoom fatigue

Main causes

Online and hybrid meetings delivered many benefits. We don't have to rush to get ready in the morning, sit in traffic for hours, or fly to another country to join an important discussion. So, why do some of us feel so tired because of them? There are several reasonable explanations.

Long periods of close-up eye contact

Rarely do we ever have meetings and events where we sit so close to each other that we can see the participants' pupils dilate. In real life, such situations could feel threatening and invade our personal space. But during online meetings, we usually look at the close-ups of our colleagues' faces.

Getting used to looking at people's faces for long periods may not be easy for all of us. Yet, it has become an unspoken etiquette rule to set an uninterrupted gaze towards the speaker as a sign that you're listening. Even a slight glance through the window may make other participants think you're bored or not present. 

Mirror view anxiety

Having an opportunity to see if we look presentable at a meeting is helpful, but seeing ourselves all the time may have negative effects. 

Even if you're just catching a quick glimpse of yourself during the meetings, it can make you feel more critical of yourself. You may start feeling self-conscious about the expressions you make or little details about your appearance. 

Lack of mobility

Studies have shown that moving our bodies is necessary to maintain cognition and general health. Naturally, some of us can feel tired and unproductive if we aren't getting sufficient exercise. 

During in-person meetings, participants can move freely. Even if someone stands up and walks around the room, it doesn't always disrupt the meeting. However, during virtual meetings, that's not an option. The limited field view and lack of a shared environment restrict our movements and gestures. 

Elevated cognitive load

Virtual meetings change our behavior. We either gesture less or are compelled to react with movements that may feel artificial. Do you remember how often you have had to give a rapid thumbs up to let the speaker know that you can see the screen they're sharing?

Humans rely on body language to understand the context and emotions of others. That’s why the lack of nonverbal cues is taxing our working memory resources, also known as cognitive load. In turn, our brains work harder to make up for lost context, understand when and how to engage, and stay focused.

Private life interference

Before the pandemic, our homes usually were a work-free environment. Now many of our bedrooms are turned into home offices. This change has created a lack of transition between work and personal time. 

Besides, we often have to share a glimpse of that personal space with the meeting participants. That's why minor interruptions to our meetings, like a toddler screaming or a spouse grabbing something from a wardrobe behind you, can cause stress and anxiety. 

Infographic on causes of Zoom fatigue

Causes of Zoom fatigue

How to stop Zoom fatigue

No matter how draining it may be to some people, Zoom fatigue is not a lasting condition. But, it should be addressed to prevent burnout and make meetings more productive. 

Limit multitasking

Multitasking can increase our cognitive load. Even though it sometimes feels like you're able to do two different tasks simultaneously, it's not technically true. According to research, we lose 40 percent of our productive time when we're multitasking. That's why it's best to avoid replying to messages or doing unrelated work during meetings. 

Reduce distractions

The correct setup may allow you to feel less drained after the meetings. So, if possible, you can try hiding a self-view camera on the platform you're using. 

Try experimenting with the way you position your camera. You may want to push it further away from yourself and ask other participants to do the same. 

Using plain backgrounds can help to refrain from exploring participants' visual environment. 

Read our blog post on how to prepare for a remote meeting for more tips.

Take regular breaks

Having some time to yourself before meetings is one of the most important steps you can take. Keep in mind that taking breaks may not help reduce fatigue if you spend this time on your phone or checking work emails. That's why you need to make sure that your breaks are productive. You can try stretching your back, going for a short walk, or engaging in other relaxing activities. 

Try other means of communication

Video-conferences are a quick and comfortable solution when you can't talk to someone in person. However, to avoid Zoom fatigue, it is worth evaluating whether a video-meeting is necessary. Look for opportunities to discuss topics via other methods such as an email or a phone call. 

Reduce stress

The most important way to prevent Zoom fatigue is learning how to manage stress effectively. The best stress reliever is regular exercise. You can try running, yoga, or cardio workouts. Sometimes even something as simple as an hour-long walk can help too. 

Knowing and practicing relaxation techniques may also help. Try taking part in mindfulness meditations, progressive muscle relaxation exercises, and deep breathing. 

Make sure you're eating a healthy diet and drinking plenty of water. And, of course, set realistic goals for yourself and your team!

Infographic on how to stop Zoom fatigue

How to stop Zoom fatigue

In short

Zoom fatigue is mental and physical exhaustion related to long virtual meetings. The common causes for Zoom fatigue are increased cognitive load, mirror view anxiety, personal life interference, and lack of mobility. 

As organizations continue to hold meetings virtually, it’s important to address this condition. Limiting multitasking, reducing distractions, learning to manage stress, and taking regular breaks can help prevent Zoom fatigue.

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Published on

Jan 28, 2022

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