In march 2020, there were 11.2 million downloads of Zoom. Today, most of us are in Zoom for meetings, therapy, interviews, chats, yoga, training, raves, reunions, theatre, museum visits, and dating. Farah Naz explains the dangers.

Amazing though  it is, to be able to do all the activities listed and maintain connections, while in the lockdowns of the last year and a half, the sad truth is that the interface I used to attend my dear uncle’s funeral was the same as the one I used to run a training for 100 people unknown to me.

Some of us have had Zoom overload. Some of us are getting a taste of a new virus, ‘Zoom fatigue’.

What’s it all about?

Even the billionaire Zoom founder, Eric Yuan, admitted to suffering from Zoom fatigue. Linked to an overuse of virtual meetings, the signs are like any burnout and can include: forgetfulness and difficulty concentrating; difficulty maintaining relationships and being present with loved ones; frustration and irritability with co-workers; physical symptoms, like muscle tension, pain, fatigue, and insomnia.

You might find yourself avoiding, cancelling, or postponing video conference calls or notice that after a work or family meeting, you’re tense and tired, or that you are finding it hard to handle your responsibilities. These are signs that Zoom fatigue has set in.


Just some of the causes

–  Too much screen use in itself is connected with physical strain on your eyes, worsening of existing eye conditions like myopia, dry eyes, retinal damage and blurred vision. There is physical tension resulting from hunched shoulders; sleep deprivation connected to blue light exposure; the increased risk of obesity and associated health conditions like diabetes; loss of cognitive ability – neuroscientists have found that the structure of the brain is altered by excessive screen time; impaired social skills – how many of us felt awkward when interacting physically after lockdown? And overuse of the screen can result in putting our brains into an addictive state – this explains why even though we may be sick of the screen we find ourselves glued to it.

–  Exhaustion through monotony results when we are in the same room, with the same lighting, the same boxes on the screen, the same gadget, the same chair. The sameness of it all, and the blurred lines between work, relaxation and play, can lead to our brains remaining in an anxious, under-stimulated state and can therefore lead to exhaustion.

–  Anxiety can be caused by an excessive amount of direct eye gaze as people look at other faces close-up. Professor Jeremy Bailenson, who examined the psychological consequences of video communication, says that the direct eye contact is unnatural and not what people would typically do in person. During a Zoom call, you are often staring at the speaker close-up, just like in public speaking, or in intimate communication

–  Seeing our own faces and gestures over several hours a day on video is stressful and taxing. Imagine, says Professor Bailenson, having someone follow you around all day with a mirror. Seeing yourself in a distorted way can also lead to anxiety about your appearance, where self-esteem may already be an issue. People are using the editing function to enhance their self-view, thus basically giving themselves a virtual facelift. Noticing the distinction between yourself in an actual mirror may lead to some uncomfortable feelings.

–  Video chats mostly force participants to stay in a fixed position, whereas in real conversation we naturally and spontaneously gesture. On the screen every level of communication is deliberate, like unmuting to talk, talking only one at a time, use of emoticons to indicate understanding, and in work meetings we might only unmute to say hello and goodbye! This superficial and unspontaneous communication undermines the main purpose of Zoom to maintain connection, and instead may leave us feeling lonely and disconnected.

The brain creates new pathways and habits fast, if Zoom is to become the familiar, habitual form of communication, it is very possible that in the long term we may find actual social interaction challenging, uncomfortable and intimidating.

Managing Zoom fatigue

Even as lockdowns have eased, many of us are still struggling with the idea of travelling to see loved ones, so we carry on zooming to stay connected, even reluctantly.

As our sense of self, our communities, our self-esteem and happiness are all interconnected, Zoom meets a need. A simple conversation with someone can lead to us learning something about ourselves, and can help us work through a difficult issue or emotion. And so, to avoid Zoom fatigue, we need to use it better.

  1. Use the old-fashioned mobile phone – without a video – for communication
  2. Take Zoom out of the full-screen option and reduce the size of the Zoom window to minimise face size
  3. Use the ‘hide self-view’ button
  4. Turn your eyes and body away from the screen so that you are not overwhelmed.
  5. Stand up during calls, put your gadget on a cardboard box to raise it. Standing up automatically changes the setting, how you move and your mindset.
  6. Don’t use the self-enhance function; be seen as you are.
  7. Reach out and ensure that you have some real time with real people where you can be your real self!
  8. If you are a leader of a company consider hybrid working – working solely on zoom is not ideal.

There is still yet a lot to learn about the effects of Zoom and considerable research is underway. In the absence of more substantiated research, we can use our own self-awareness and take the time to notice how we feel and notice what we need and act accordingly.

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