The COVID-19 pandemic has moved our lives to a virtual space. Why is it so exhausting?
Fatigue does not feel deserved. We do not fly a plane, teach toddlers or rescue people trapped in burning buildings. Still, at the end of the day, the feeling is so universal that it has its own name: Zoom Fatigue.
Stanford University professor Jeremy Bailenson, founder of the Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab, has some answers. In research published Tuesday in the journal Technology, mind and behavior, he describes the psychological effect of spending hours every day on Zoom, Google Hangouts, Skype, FaceTime or other video caller interfaces. It is the first peer-reviewed article that analyzes zoom fatigue from a psychological perspective.
According to Bailenson, there are four main reasons why video chats make us so tired. And he suggests some simple solutions.
We are too close for comfort
Think of the regular meeting. You may be looking at the speaker. Or maybe you notice the fancy, new blinds, your colleague̵
But on Zoom conversations, everyone stares at everyone, all the time. And our faces may seem too big.
When so many faces are so close to ours in real life, the subconscious takes it personally. It tells us: They will either choose a match, or choose a friend. “What actually happens when you use Zoom for many, many hours is that you are in this hyper-excited state,” according to Bailenson.
Solution: Exit the full screen option to shrink the face size. Use an external keyboard to create a comfortable space between yourself and the masses.
We really hate looking at ourselves
For most of us, the quick morning dip in the mirror is all we really need. After hours of self-protection, we become critical. We notice the sloppy shaving job. Overdue haircut. The dead plant over the left shoulder. Or maybe the light is completely wrong, casts deep shadows, and we look like a member of the witness protection program.
“It is a tax on us. It’s stressful, “said Bailenson. “There are negative emotional consequences of seeing yourself in a mirror.”
Solution: Use the “hide self-view” button, which you can access by right-clicking on your own image when your face is properly framed in the video.
We’re trapped in a chair
Humans are restless creatures. During phone calls, we like to wander around. Even if we are stuck in a meeting at a conference table, we find ways to stretch – sit back in a chair or stare thoughtfully at the ceiling. But with video conferencing, we are limited by the camera’s narrow field of view.
This is both physically and mentally fatal. “There is a growing body of research now that says that when people move, they perform better cognitively,” Bailenson said.
Solution: An external camera further away from the screen lets you doodle, release neck tension, do a sitting twist or fidget, just like you do in real meetings. Turning off video on a regular basis during meetings is a good rule of thumb to set for groups, and creates a short non-verbal rest.
We can not see body language, so it takes more energy to communicate
At best, meetings can function as subtle symphonies, with everyone harmonizing positions, laughter and knowledge glances. We read each other’s characters. Conversations have rhythm.
Not so with Zoom. It’s a stiffness, with only one speaker at a time. We need to listen carefully after completing sentences so we do not interrupt. To make an important point, we must add drama and flair.
“If you want to show someone that you agree with them, you have to nod excessively or put your thumb up,” Bailenson said. “It adds cognitive strain when you use mental calories to communicate.”
Solution: Take a “sound only” break during long meetings. Don’t just turn off the camera – turn your body away from the screen. Look at the wall that needs painting, or the birds outside the window. Maybe hang up some clothes, even wash a few dishes.
Want to measure your own Zoom fatigue? Because so many organizations – including schools, corporations, and government agencies – have contacted Stanford communications researchers to improve video conferencing, the team responded by developing the Zoom Exigueion & Fatigue Scale, or ZEF Scale, to measure workplace fatigue. The goal is to help change video technology so that stressors are reduced.
To take the survey and participate in the research project, go to: https://stanforduniversity.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_3xGmOOvQ5YZlaZM