Zoom is a four-letter word: 5 ways to cope with video chat exhaustion

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If you were one of the folks working from home before the pandemic hit, you might’ve initially felt very ahead of the curve and technologically superior while other employees around the globe scrambled to adapt. But now, suddenly you feel overwhelmed and exhausted. You’re struggling to keep up, but can’t quite place your finger on why. That’s ‘Zoom fatigue’ setting in.

And you’re feeling those feelings for some very good (and scientifically documented) reasons.

Though at first video conferencing and digital events seemed a great way to replace the in-person activities we’re familiar with, today most of us are identifying a sense of dread, anxiety, and even frustration as more and more video chat invites fill our inboxes and calendars.

And so with each “ding” of another notification, The Michael Scott “Nooo! God! Please! No!” vibe is more and more real.

Seems that all this connection without the physical connectivity is….well…exhausting.

Video chat exhaustion: All the faces, all the time has mental health consequences

Psychologists have coined the phrase “continuous partial attention” to describe the effects of being engaged in multiple activities all the time – which is what video conferencing involves, even if you’re paying 100% attention and not trying to simultaneously check email, get actual work done, or surf the web.

We rely on visual cues to continue conversations and read the room. The Brady Bunch gallery view of multiple faces and the slight lag time in most chats makes watching for those clues an Herculean effort, and the tax fee is mental exhaustion.

There’s also the fact that we’re constantly on stage now – and with our personal lives going on all around us, it becomes overwhelming. Your work self and home self are likely not the same person; the convergence of those two entities is also complex and tough to navigate. (Significant others, take note: your partner does not want your input, ever, on how they should do their jobs.)

Here in my house, even my dog knows that he can start to bark and I’ll do whatever he demands to make him stop. (Let’s not get into what the teens are getting away with – the Glare of Death ™ isn’t possible when you’re smiling and nodding for the camera; I cannot imagine having a toddler at home).

An additional level of depletion for us introverts: We need quiet time to recharge, and now friends and family know we aren’t busy doing other things. This makes begging off another task within itself. So after a day full of Zoom, Skype, Teams, Hangouts, it’s then an evening facing Houseparty, FaceTime, etc.

5 ways to cope with Zoom fatigue

So, how do we begin to deal with our present reality, especially when we’ve no clue when it’ll end?

Experts are already delving into the topic, and have some good advice. Here’s five of my favorite suggested mechanisms for battling Zoom fatigue:

  1. Devote a few moments to being in the now. Take a few breaths, decide you’ll greet everyone on the call, and take it from there. Rather than thinking you’re staring down 30 or 60 minutes on screen, take it minute by minute.
  2. Schedule breaks. Add meetings with yourself on your calendar. Block off that time to walk around, go outside, read, or do something else – just make sure it entails getting away from your desk.
  3. Turn off the video. Make some strategic decisions about what calls need to be video calls, and only do audio for the rest. Try walking and talking – and tell your fellow call members that you’re doing it. Chances are, they’ll love your honesty and be inspired to do the same.
  4. Let it go, let it go. Embrace the power of saying “no.” If you’re simply not up for another video call and are feeling burned out, say so – and let go of the guilt that normally accompanies it. We’re living in extraordinary times; give yourself some latitude.
  5. Recognize that your anxiety is normal. Feeling frazzled is allowed right now – we’ve never experienced something like this. Rather than trying to talk yourself out of those feelings, acknowledge that they’re completely rational, and stop wishing you didn’t feel this way.

This, too, shall pass. I’d tell you to remember that you’re never alone, but I think you already know that.

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Jenn Vande Zande

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