By Atiba Founder & CEO, JJ Rosen; This article originally appeared in The Tennessean
In normal times, staring at yourself all day would be a weird thing to do.
But that’s what I’ve been doing. Over the past couple of months, I’ve literally been staring at my own face for hours a day.
This new habit was not born out of vanity or some deep obsession with my middle-aged dad look — it’s all because of Zoom.
I start around 8 a.m. and wind down about nine hours later. I’m on camera, looking at the boxes on the screen featuring myself along with my fellow Zoomers as we all juggle the meetings we used to do in-person or over what’s now considered old-school voice-only calls.
Truthfully, I am grateful for all this cool technology that has kept me working in such a strange time, and I must concede that it’s not all bad. I Zoom away while enjoying the comforts of home, and find I’m getting more done than ever before. Without the drive-time between meetings or even the walk-time to the conference room, the mass adoption of video conferencing has undoubtedly made us all more efficient.
But still, by the end of the day, the face that I see staring back at me after a few hours of Zooming looks more tired than it used to look. For some reason, sitting in a chair in front of a camera all day wears me down. By the time 6 p.m. rolls around, I’m plumb Zoomed-out.
“Zoom fatigue” sounds like a fake mental health issue. The idea of taking meetings from your back porch in theory should make life easier. But ask anyone in the work world these days and they will tell you, “Zoom fatigue” is very real.
Why is this?
The psychological reasons for Zoom fatigue are complex.
Most mental experts agree that at least one cause of Zoom fatigue (or Microsoft Teams fatigue, or any other video conferencing platform) is the challenge around what is termed “continuous partial attention.” The idea is that the mind is exhausted by trying to decode the social cues of multiple people directly in front of you at the same time. For our brains, staring at a gallery of faces on a Zoom meeting is similar to trying to read a book and sing a song simultaneously — it’s taxing, to say the least.
Even during one-on-one video calls, this new way of navigating social cues can be trying. Between often-imperfect video and audio, and a view of a person just shoulders and above, our brains are forced to work harder to pick up the social cues. The slight movement someone makes when they are ready to talk, the variations in eye contact that show emotions, the twiddling of thumbs to show boredom — these take more brainpower to detect on Zoom, and over time this can wear us out.
And then there’s something else I noticed.
I really am tired of seeing myself all day. Constantly taking a glance at my onscreen appearance, on the alert for any food stuck in my teeth or a large wrinkle in my shirt —these are things I (perhaps negligently) never spent much brainpower on before. This just adds to the weariness.
So how do you combat Zoom fatigue?
Here’s what’s worked for me:
- Close your email during Zoom calls. This just adds to the multitasking challenge Zoom already creates.
- Turn off self-view mode. Others will see you but you will not have to spend any energy being overly self-aware.
- When tired, turn your camera off altogether and just use audio to reduce visual social cue strain. Plus, this also allows you to walk while you talk to keep your energy up.
- When possible, give yourself a 30-minute break between calls so your brain can rest.
Like most technologies, the Zoom meeting craze brings with it some good and bad. The key is to allow it to boost your efficiency without depleting your energy. Pace yourself, keep your Zoom meetings small, and avoid spending too much time looking into your own eyes.