Zoom fatigue is real. But you can outsmart it.

April 20, 2021 in Complementary & Integrative Medicine, Wellness  •  By Michael Scott, ND, MSA
zoom fatigue

Video chat and videoconferencing technology have been important tools during the pandemic. From allowing people hospitalized with COVID-19 and older people isolated in nursing homes to see and talk with loved ones to making remote schooling possible for millions of children around the world, these technologies have helped fill gaps and help people maintain a sense of connection. They’ve also been a key part of remote work, allowing meetings, physician’s visits, and other important interactions to continue.

But as the pandemic continues, more and more people are experiencing a downside of the constant use of videoconferencing and video chat. Called Zoom fatigue after one of the most popular videoconferencing platforms, a new study has found that overuse of these technologies is making people exhausted, anxious, and mentally overtaxed.

One of the study’s authors, Jeremy Bailenson, a professor at Stanford and founding director of the Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab, first examined the impact of video chat platforms during the pandemic earlier this year. He and several colleagues, including the new study’s lead author, Géraldine Fauville, a specialist in in virtual reality and communication at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, developed a tool to measure the psychological effects of video chat, the Zoom Exhaustion & Fatigue Scale (ZEF) Scale. The scale measures overall tiredness, the desire to be alone, feeling overwhelmed, eye strain and related symptoms, and a feeling of not wanting to start a new activity.

The new study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, uses data collected from 10,591 respondents to a public survey and measures their fatigue using the ZEF scale. People who spent more time in virtual meetings and those who had back to back meetings with little or no break in between had the highest fatigue scores.

Overall, the main causes of stress and exhaustion are related to the extra work our brains have to do to interpret non-verbal cues during these meetings. The study’s authors identified four causes for Zoom fatigue:

  • Mirror anxiety (Stress related to self-consciousness caused by seeing your own face on screen that has been associated with an increased risk of anxiety and depression)
  • A feeling of being physically trapped (The need to remain seated and in frame during virtual meetings)
  • Hyper gaze (Feeling that the grid of faces on the screen are staring at you from close range)
  • Cognitive load (Stress related to interpreting and producing nonverbal cues like exaggerated smiling and giving a thumbs up to show approval)

The study found that while men and women both experience Zoom fatigue, women of all ages scored higher on all measures on the ZEF scale, experiencing 13.8% more Zoom fatigue than men.

How to decrease Zoom fatigue

The first step you can take to reduce the fatigue and stress associated with video meetings is to choose the right medium for your meeting. Not all meetings need video. In fact, many meetings are more focused and efficient when conducted by phone.

Other strategies to protect yourself from Zoom fatigue include:

  • Schedule smarter: Whenever possible, leave at least 15 to 30 minutes between meetings to allow your brain and eyes to rest. It’s also helpful to establish blocks of meeting-free time each day.
  • Use mindfulness to reduce stress: Before the start of each meeting, take a few minutes to practice simple mindfulness techniques like breathing or a short meditation. These techniques can help you enter the meeting calmer and more focused.
  • Move more: While you can’t move around while you’re on a video call, you can move in between meetings. Take a few minutes to walk around your house or do some stretches. You can also vary your position for meetings. Sit for some and stand for others if you can adjust your webcam to accommodate the difference in position.
  • Use speaker view and hide self-view settings: Many video chat platforms let you choose who you see onscreen. When possible, choose the setting that displays the speaker rather than the full grid of participant’s faces. You can also reduce the stress of mirror anxiety by choosing the hide self-view setting.
  • Prevent eye strain: Try the 20-20-20 strategy to reduce strain on your eyes and the headaches that can result. Look at something other than a screen that’s 20 feet away for 20 seconds every 20 minutes.
  • Reduce onscreen clutter: When you have multiple windows open on your computer in the background of your call and your email is dinging every few minutes demanding your attention, it’s easier to get overwhelmed. Close or minimize open windows and use do not disturb settings on your email if available. You may also want to put your cell phone on silent and place it screen down to avoid distractions.