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.
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.
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.