Hard to believe we’ve reached week 8 of lockdown isn’t it? The first few weeks of quarantine were a breeze, seeing friends at the click of a button, scheduling quizzes, dance parties and dinners via video call. The novelty of Zoom backgrounds and clap hand emojis delighted us. But what happens when your workday consists of back to back Zoom meetings and your evenings are taken up with endless catch ups with faraway?

Zoom fatigue is the word on everyone’s lips at the moment. The entire world is in a state of inertia and Zoom was supposed to solve all our ills. Recent figures show that Zoom user numbers spiked dramatically from 10 million in January to over 300 million at the end of April. What we didn’t anticipate was the constant stream of invites and the fact that we now have absolutely no conflicting commitments and no way of refusing the mounting meetings. These are all fantastic opportunities to connect with friends and family but the very nature of video calls can leave you feeling drained and depleted.

Self complexity theory posits that we normally pigeonhole aspects of our lives and act accordingly in particular settings. These days our work, social life and family time all take place via the same medium and at a subconscious level this shift can be discombobulating. In a general workday even the act of entering a meeting room can elicit behavioral changes. But in our current environment, our surroundings stay the same as different faces populate the screen. Context collapse is often used in reference to social media, whereby our audience is vast and is often made up of people from all areas of our lives, work colleagues, family, school friends, university friends etc. In real life, our communication may vary depending on the contexts we find ourselves in. Social media on the other hand is a catch all platform where our communication can be viewed by everyone in our network. This can lead to an underlying pressure to appease everyone. In a Zoom context, it can feel unusual to finish up a work meeting and see your mother pop up on screen in the same breath. Our social life, work life and leisure time is now largely happening in front of the same screen which can lead to an increased cognitive load.

Cyberpsychologist Dr Linda Kaye stated that facing your own face may be the reason we feel so exhausted on Zoom. Seeing your mirrored image during a call means you are consciously aware of yourself and the impression you are making. This feeling is exacerbated by knowing that you are on display, which may result in more frequent facial adjustments and just more overall effort than a phone call. Social cues can be more difficult to deduce on Zoom and it is nigh on impossible to pick up on body language. Non verbal cues make up the bulk of human interaction and video calls mean we need to concentrate more on picking up these cues. Silences can often be a sign that a conversation has reached it’s natural end. However incessant technical issues – a frozen screen, sound delay, etc. can also come into play and contribute to the overwhelm. Studies have shown that delays during video calls can make people view others as unfriendly. When contending with possible technical issues, this could lead to poor impressions and cause anxiety spikes.

Furthermore, with Zoom calls, limit us to our desks or couches, which we may have been sitting in for the past 8 hours. Phone calls offer a freedom of movement and allow us to stretch our weary legs. Zoom fatigue can be both a mental and physical ailment, namely an aching behind after sitting in place for so long. Feeling shackled to one spot could be another fatigue factor, especially right now when our bodies are crying out for movement. We also miss out on the micro moments of movement between meetings, grabbing a coffee with a colleague and connecting with others en route to the next call. Physically making your way from one room to another can have energising effect aswell as offering an opportunity to chat with colleagues. The absence of these “water-cooler” catch ups can contribute to us feeling less engaged, particularly when meetings run back to back.

Introverts in particular, already averse to large gatherings, may find that Zoom calls are harder to say no to during this extended quarantine period. The lack of other plans can mean introverts are overwhelmed by invites from their more extroverted counterparts. Large group meetings can be chaotic, with people talking over each other and feelings of obligation can overshadow the connection. As Zoom becomes another social norm, it is important to understand that we are all struggling to cope at the moment and that we all have differing needs when it comes to socialising.

Virtual socialising may be the way forward but it is ok to step away from it too. If things feel overwhelming, set boundaries on when you are available for a call, feel free to turn down invites and know that picking up the phone is always an option!

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