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Hokie Health: Zoom fatigue and what you can do to protect yourself

Mental health is health. And we believe that when it comes to mental health, at Virginia Tech we are Better Together.

From: Hokie Wellness

New research explains why videoconferencing exhausts the mind and body and how individuals should protect themselves. Stanford researchers warn that video calls are likely tiring people out.

The peer-reviewed article that was published in the journal Technology, Mind, and Behavior last month identifies four consequences of prolonged video conferencing that contributes to the commonly known “Zoom fatigue."

Below are the reasons for Zoom fatigue and suggestions on how videoconference features can reduce fatigue.

Excessive amounts of close-up eye contact is highly intense.

The amount of eye contact in video chats and the size of faces on screens is unnatural. On Zoom, everyone looks at everyone all the time. The amount of eye contact increases considerably. It can be a stressful experience to have everyone staring.

Additionally, faces on videoconferencing can appear too large for comfort, depending on monitor size. The size of the face is typically what is experienced when someone is in your personal space. This can be interpreted by our brains as an intense situation.

Solution: Take Zoom out of the full-screen option and reduce the window relative to the monitor to minimize face size. Use an external keyboard to increase personal space.

Seeing yourself constantly during Zoom meetings in real time is draining.

Studies show that when you see a reflection of yourself, you are more critical of yourself. Seeing yourself for hours a day can be taxing, stressful, and have negative emotional consequences.

Solution: Use the “hide self-view” button to eliminate the mirror reflection.

Usual mobility is dramatically reduced with video chats.

With videoconferencing, movement is limited in ways that are not natural. With in-person and phone conversations, individuals can walk around and move. Increased research shows that when we move, we perform better cognitively.

Solution: Consider the room where videoconferencing is taking place, where the camera is positioned, and whether the use of an external keyboard can create distance and flexibility. Being farther away from the screen allows you to pace or doodle like we do in real meetings. Also, turning off video occasionally can give you a brief, nonverbal rest.

Video chats create a much higher cognitive load.

Non-verbal communication is natural in regular face-to-face interactions, but in video chats we have to work harder to send and receive nonverbal cues. Zoom meetings have taken a very natural thing – an in-person conversation – and made it something that requires a lot of thought. The things we do to communicate, such as a nod or thumbs up, are typically exaggerated in Zoom conferencing. That adds “cognitive load” and requires mental effort to communicate.

Additionally, gestures may mean something different in the Zoom meeting context. A glance to someone in an in-person meeting means something entirely different than looking off screen at someone who just walked into the home office.

Solution: Give yourself an “audio only” break when having long periods of meetings. Turn off your camera for a break from having to be nonverbally active and turn your body away from the screen for a few minutes to prevent seeing gestures on screen.

Stanford communication researchers have devised the Zoom Exhaustion and Fatigue Scale to help measure how much fatigue people experience from videoconferencing. The 15-item questionnaire has been tested during the past year with more than 500 participants. Questions asked are about general fatigue, physical fatigue, social fatigue, emotional fatigue, and motivational fatigue. To measure your own Zoom fatigue, take the survey and participate in the research project.

Visit the Employee Wellness at Home site for more information on virtual workshops, connection sessions, and other wellness resources offered. Learn more about how we can be Better Together at Virginia Tech.

Hokie Wellness serves Virginia Tech to foster a healthier community by providing prevention services, education, outreach, and resources to employees and students. If you have questions, need help, or would like to join the Hokie Wellness Google Group to stay up to date with monthly updates, contact the team at hokiewellness@vt.edu.