How to Recover from Zoom Fatigue

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Day after day it is the same.  Zoom for several hours or maybe almost the whole day.  Stay inside with just your new pals–your computer and smartphone.  In March, 2020 this condition was given a name, “Zoom fatigue”.  And then no one thought it would still be with us one year later.

Working and learning online can sap your energy by requiring long periods of close attention to the image and voice of others as well as to yourself.

What Causes Zoom Fatigue

It requires more effort to interact with someone on zoom than it does to interact face-to-face.  In face-to-face interactions your gazes shifts from looking at the person to looking at the surroundings and you are not also looking at yourself.  In zoom the other person is closer than would be in a face-to-face interaction.  This closeness causes discomfort because your personal space is being invaded.  In zoom there is also a slight lag before the other person responds and this lag also leads to fatigue.

Then there is looking at yourself on the zoom screen, which can be embarrassing.  You notice every flaw in your appearance and conclude that the others on zoom must be aware of them too. 

Passive Versus Active Activity

And so much of what is on the zoom screen requires passive viewing.  Team mates are droning on and on.  Teachers are lecturing or assigning a short passage to read.  Even watching a video is boring because it is such a passive activity. 

If you could actively manipulate data or objects on the screen you would at least get some positive reinforcement and that would increase the “feel good” neurotransmitter, dopamine.  Actively involving the online viewer is why video games are so appealing and why teachers are encouraged to use a problem-solving approach rather than lecturing.

But, no, with zoom you just watch, listen, and occasionally reply.

Limits of Attention

After 20 minutes your attention has totally departed.  Twenty minutes is the attention span for the average adult.  Although attention span varies widely among people of all ages, for the elementary school aged child attention span is 12-20 minutes. Yet, everyone is often required to pay attention on online way beyond what is humanly possible.

Because you are unwillingly tied to Zoom, your attention lags and your resentment grows. Even apathy sets in.

Cognitive Overload

So, you check email or texts, or social media.  Yes, this breaks the boredom but it also subjects you to cognitive overload. You are fooling yourself if you think you can multitask and no one will notice.  The minute you divide your attention, you are adding more stimuli that you trying to respond to at the same time.  Cognitively you can’t do a good job of anything if you are trying to attend to too much at once.

Sitting in one place for long periods of time, working from the same room in the same house, all lead to despair.  It seems nothing will ever change.  Being isolated from face-to-face interaction is taking its toll on your mind and body. Yet, you quickly dismiss any escape because of the threat of being exposed to COVID. 

Do This One Thing

There is one thing you can do, however, to keep from going crazy, even if you have to work/learn online for long periods of time day after day.  You can break your online time into 45-minute (or, even better yet, 20-minute) periods.  Between each period stand up, take up to three deep breaths, stretch, and look out a window at nature. If possible, open a window and breath the fresh air or take a moment to go outside and “smell the roses”.  Notice all the different shades of green on one tree or plant.  Notice whether there is a slight breeze, what sounds you hear, and what smells are coming from nearby plants and flowers.  You don’t have to spend more than a few minutes doing this but those minutes will rejuvenate your mind and body. You then can focus on your work/lessons more clearly and with more interest. 

If there is another person in your household, during your break, smile and ask that person how he/she is doing. You then are giving both yourself and others a moment of much-needed face-to-face social interaction.  Even talking to your pet can help relieve the boredom of being constantly online.

The one thing not to do during your breaks is check your emails, texts, and social media. All of those can wait until you are finished with your work or lessons online.  Yes, co-workers might email or text you while you are online but you are not at your best trying to respond to them while you are also expected to be in a zoom meeting.  Let your co-workers know this and maybe that will give them some relief too.

Now, take that break.  You deserve it.

REFERENCES

Bailenson, J. N. (2021). Nonverbal overload: A theoretical argument for the causes of zoom fatigue. Technology, Mind, and Behavior, 2 (1) https://doi.org/10.1037/tmb0000030

Murphy, M. (2008) Matching workplace training to adult attention span to improve learner reaction, learning score, and retention. Instructional Delivery Systems, 22(2), 6-13.

Powers, S. R., Rauh, C., Henning, R. A., Buck, R. W., & West, T. V. (2011). The effect of video feedback delay on frustration and emotion communication accuracy. Computers in Human Behavior, 27(5), 1651–1657. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2011.02.003.

How Resilient Are You?

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Working from home, taking care of children who are doing online schooling, missing social contact and get-a-ways all are creating heightened stress.  Some days it may feel like you want to cave in from all the stress. Other days you may feel you are able to handle everything.

Being able to handle stress is known as being resilient.  To find out how resilient you are, take the following short quiz from Davidson and Begley’s book The Emotional Life of the Brain.

Answer each question True or False.  If you are tempted to think long and hard about a question, or if you feel that there are too many nuances and exceptions, resist.  The most accurate results come from making a snap judgment about whether a question is true or false about you.

  1.  If I have a minor disagreement with a close friend or spouse—closer to “No, it’s your turn to do the dishes” than “You cheated on me!”—it typically leaves me out of sorts for hours or longer.
  2. If another driver uses the shoulder to zoom up to the front of a long line of traffic waiting to merge, I am likely to shake it off easily rather than fume about it for a long time.
  3. When I have experienced profound grief, such as the death of someone close to me, it has interfered with my ability to function for many months.
  4. If I make a mistake at work and get reprimanded for it, I can shrug it off and take it as a learning experience.
  5. If I try a new restaurant and find that the food is awful and the service snooty, it ruins my whole evening.
  6. If I’m stuck in traffic because of an accident up ahead, when I pass the bottleneck I typically floor it to vent my frustration but still see the inside.
  7. If my home water heater breaks, it does not affect my mood very much because I know I can just call a plumber and get it fixed.
  8. If I meet a wonderful man/woman and ask if he/she would like to get together again, being told no typically puts me in a bad mood for hours or even days.
  9. If I am being considered for an important professional award or promotion and it goes to someone I consider less qualified, I can usually move on quickly.
  10. At a party, if I’m having a conversation with an interesting stranger and get completely tongue tied when he/she asks me about myself, I tend to replay the conversation—this time including what I should have said—for hours or even days afterward.

Give yourself one point for each True answer to questions 1,3,5,6,8, and 10.  Give yourself zero points for each False answer.  Give yourself one point for each False answer to questions 2,4,7, and 9; score zero points for each True answer.  Anything above seven suggests you are Slow to Recover.  If you scored below three, you are Fast to Recover and thus quite Resilient.

If you want to be more resilient, change what you are saying to yourself.  Instead of replaying self-recrimination or angry thoughts, notice what you are saying to yourself and change the message.  For example, you might be thinking, “If I just had not been so critical, my ex would still be with me.” Change this message to, “It was a hard lesson to learn, but I am grateful that I now know how to be less critical.” You are then less hard on yourself and it is compassion, not criticism, that facilitates greater resiliency.

Another thought that needs to be dispelled in order to become more resilient is “Everyday is the same and it will never end.” Realize that there will be an end to this crisis, even though it is difficult to do so during the crisis.  Knowing that some of your present stressors will not be present in the future helps you to have a more positive mindset.  Then you can meet each day with renewed vigor rather than a feeling of depletion.

Davidson, Richard J. and Begley, Sharon (2012) The Emotional Life of Your Brain. New York: Hudson Street Press.