October 27, 2020

Why All Those Zoom and Google Meets Are So Draining (And What to Actually Do About It)

6 tips to make video chat feel less tiresome

Someone meets with their coworkers over Zoom for a conference call.

You log on and suddenly 12 floating heads are staring at you. Why is there an echo? Are you muted? Someone is trying to share their screen, but you just glanced at your own picture – your hair is a mess! Wait, are you frozen? Oh no, your kid just walked into the room. You motion for them to army crawl on the floor past the camera…

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Online video calls can be tough.

You’re juggling technology, interruptions and the weird struggle of trying to pick up on (and convey) social cues through a screen. Plus, the constant gaze of your boss and coworkers can be a little awkward.

Combine all this video weirdness with back to back virtual meetings or class and it’s enough to make even the most extroverted, tech-savvy millennial feel drained. It’s no wonder that many of us feel exhausted after a day of remote work. (We didn’t used to feel this tired, right?)

Unfortunately, thanks to coronavirus, video chat and virtual learning won’t be going anywhere anytime soon. Behavioral health therapist Jane Pernotto Ehrman, MEd, RCHES, ACHT, shares insight and advice for surviving this pandemic phenomenon known as Zoom fatigue.

Video chat is taxing for our brains

From Skype to Zoom, there’s a lot going on when we log onto a video call. Our brain is trying to navigate technology while we process what we’re seeing and hearing, but our brain is also trying to process social interaction through a screen.

That’s because most of the nonverbal cues that we used to rely on during in-person conversations – like eye contact, body language or an indication that someone is about to speak – can’t be easily picked up over video. Our brain is registering all this as some sort of weird disconnect.

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“When you’re speaking to someone in-person, you can gauge their energy, see their body language, hear the tone of their voice and understand the social context,” says Ehrman. “But when you’re communicating through video, it’s a whole different environment. It can feel like you’re in outer space.”

Video chat is also a classic example of trying to multitask. Because here’s the thing, our brain can’t multitask, no matter how hard we try. Even when we think we’re multitasking, we’re aren’t actually doing two things at once, but instead just doing separate actions quickly.

In fact, attempting to multitask has been linked to weaken long-term memory, increased depression and anxiety and the inability to distinguish between important and unimportant interruptions.

No wonder you feel like your productivity and focus starts to dip as the day (and the virtual meetings) go on.

Nonverbal overload and loss of connection

With video chat, there’s a higher level of effort and focus involved, says Ehrman. When you talk to someone in-person, you don’t have to try so hard to show your emotions or appear a certain way. Now, it’s much more difficult to convey happiness, interest or even disagreement through a screen.

Maybe you’ve noticed that anytime you’re on video you plaster a smile to your face or nod so often your neck starts to hurt. You’re just trying to express that you understand what is being said to you, but this repeated effort and feeling like you need to perform can be incredibly draining.

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It’s now also more challenging to have normal office chitchat over video. You know, catching up with a friend in the hallway, asking your coworker about their new puppy or simply making a joke in a meeting.

Despite staring at giant heads in front of you, video chat can feel isolating and impersonal, especially for those who find joy or get motivation from the physical environment around them.

6 tips to help combat Zoom fatigue

If the social disconnect (and honestly, just plain awkwardness) of video chat is draining your energy and causing anxiety, consider these adjustments and tips:

  1. Turn on speaker view. In a normal meeting, you don’t gaze collectively at every person in the meeting or at yourself. Instead, you turn and look at the person speaking. To fix this issue, try turning on speaker view or pin the video of whoever is presenting. This will make it feel more natural and help you focus on whoever is speaking (instead of studying the backgrounds of all your coworker’s screens).
  2. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Bring a sense of humor to the situation, says Ehrman. For most of us, this is all new. Juggling technology, pets, kids and remote work is a lot. Don’t be so rigid about perfection, but instead learn to roll with the punches. Sometimes, you just have to accept that your internet will go out, you’ll start to speak without unmuting and your cat will probably stroll across the screen at some point. It’s OK to laugh.
  3. Don’t multitask. Not only is it rude, but remember earlier when we discussed the negative effects of trying to multitask? As tempting as it is to text or answer email, focus your attention on the person speaking or take notes like you would if you were in-person. Attempting to multitask is just going to drain your energy and focus, aka brain overload.
  4. Hold 55-minute meetings. If you’re scheduled for back to back meetings or class, try to end your video an extra five minutes early. Use this time to go to the bathroom, stretch, stand on your front porch or look out the window. Just try to disconnect and give your brain a break. Make space to be able to step away and gather yourself between videos. You’ll be much more focused and in the moment if you do.
  5. Set up time for ‘virtual water cooler talk’. If you’re feeling lonely or not connected to your coworkers, try setting up a 15-minute session to talk about anything but work. This is your time to talk sports, weather, dogs and weekend plans, but try not to make it an obligation for the team to attend. If you’re feeling particularly isolated (hello extroverts!) and your meeting is small enough, try to greet each person by name when you log on. Sometimes we’re so quick to launch into a meeting that we forget what it would be like to be in the room with other people, says Ehrman.
  6. Try a phone call or connect through email instead. Sometimes, a regular old phone call works just fine. This gives you a break from being on camera and feeling like you need to perform or appear a certain way. If you’re on the phone, you can also use it as a walking meeting and incorporate more movement into your day. Other times, if you can, connecting through email is another great way to break up the monotony of staring at a screen full of silent faces.

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