Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we have adopted Zoom and other online platforms to stay connected with others. We have filled up our days participating in virtual events such as birthday calls, social gatherings, religious services, or various meetings. There is even more time available for our virtual gatherings since we no longer need to drive. While it is important to maintain social connections, more and more people are experiencing “Zoom fatigue.” This phenomenon is used to describe the tired and drained feelings people experience after Zoom (or virtual) meetings.

Why Zoom Fatigue Happens

Zoom fatigue occurs for a number of reasons. First, it takes much more effort and focus to follow virtual conversations than in-person ones (Fosslien & West Duffy, 2020). During virtual meetings, there are fewer nonverbal cues, such as eye contact and body language, that help us interpret and follow the conversation. Thus, our brain has to work extra hard to follow the along, especially if multiple people start talking at the same time. On top of this, our brain is trying to pay attention to who is speaking, what is being said, and waiting for a good time to ask a question or participate.

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In addition, it is also much easier to get distracted (Fosslien & West Duffy, 2020). Family members or even pets may walk by and distract us. We may also get sidetracked by emails or other notifications that pop up on our devices during virtual meetings. These small distractions can take our focus away from the meeting and leave us trying to catch up on the conversation.

Lastly, we may also be focused on our own appearance on screen (Callahan, 2020). Seeing ourselves on screen can be worrying and even stressful because we want to appear approachable and look like we are paying attention.

Effects of Zoom Fatigue (Robinson, 2020)

Zoom fatigue is a byproduct of the pandemic and transitioning to online and virtual meetings. While the long-term effects of Zoom fatigue are not known, there are different side effects we can experience.

Screen Apnea

  • This occurs after looking at a screen for a prolonged period of time.
  • It is characterized by people temporarily holding their breath or experiencing shallow breathing in front of screens.
  • Screen apnea can lead to stress-related illnesses.

Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS)

  • CVS is a condition in which users experience eye strain, redness, or blurred vision due to extended amounts of computer screen exposure.

Zoom Burnout

  • Zoom burnout is low energy levels and attention span due to long periods of screen time.
  • Zoom burnout can affect physical and mental health.

How to Manage Zoom Fatigue

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We will likely need to continue staying connected over Zoom and other online platforms, in order to stay safe for the foreseeable future. Here are some tips on how to avoid and address Zoom fatigue.

Take Breaks (Fosslien & West Duffy, 2020)

  • If you have multiple virtual meetings in one day, be sure to schedule breaks between those meetings to give your brain and eyes a rest from working so hard during these meetings.
  • You can also consider not attending optional meetings. Just because everything is virtual, that does not mean you have to attend every single event you are invited to. You can decline virtual invitations just like you would for in-person events.

Only Schedule Necessary Meetings (Fosslien & West Duffy, 2020).

  • Although it is easy to turn to Zoom calls for everything, stop and think if the meeting can be done alternatively through phone or email. Not every meeting has to be done over a virtual platform.
  • Virtual meetings are great for large group discussions and collaboration. Quick check ins or conversations do not need a virtual setting.
  • Overscheduling meetings can be overwhelming and may lead to forgetting or missing meetings.

Avoid Distractions (Fosslien & West Duffy, 2020)

  • If possible, situate yourself in a quiet area away from other people in your household.
  • Close other tabs or applications you do not need for the meeting, so you are not tempted to multitask or look at other things.
  • If you are using a laptop, computer, or tablet for the virtual meeting, put your phone on silent or leave it in a different room so you are not distracted by incoming messages or other notifications.

Practice the 20-20-20 Rule (Robinson, 2020)

  • This technique can help mitigate screen apnea, computer vision syndrome, and Zoom burnout.
  • For every 20 minutes you are looking at a screen, take a 20 second break to look at something 20 feet away.
    • This relaxes the eye muscles and gives the brain a break.

While we still cannot get together with others in person, virtual gatherings are a fun, innovative alternate to stay connected, keep in touch with friends and family, and get educated. However, we should be aware of Zoom fatigue. Virtual meetings can be very tiring because we need put in greater effort to focus on the conversations and information presented to us. If you consistently feel drained after Zoom meetings or feel like you do not want to attend as many virtual meetings, you may be experiencing Zoom fatigue. To avoid future Zoom fatigue or virtual meeting burnout, consider taking breaks in between meetings or attending fewer virtual meetings.

Sources

Fosslien, L. West Duffy, M. (2020). How to Combat Zoom Fatigue. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2020/04/how-to-combat-zoom-fatigue

Callahan, M. (2020). ‘Zoom Fatigue’ is Real. Here’s Why You’re Feeling it and What You Can Do About It. Retrieved from https://news.northeastern.edu/2020/05/11/zoom-fatigue-is-real-heres-why-youre-feeling-it-and-what-you-can-do-about-it/

Robinson, B.E. (2020). Zoom Burnout. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-right-mindset/202011/zoom-burnout