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.

Give Love to Get Love

John Hain/Pixabay

We all want to be loved.  But how do we feel loved instead of lonely, especially now during this pandemic?  Surprisingly, ancient texts might give us an answer.

More than a thousand years ago the stoic, Hecato, asserted, “If you would be love, love”. And a similar sentiment can be found in the Bible (“Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.”). Even Benjamin Franklin wrote, “If you would be loved, love, and be loveable.”

What all these wise people knew was that to get love, you have to give love. Give a love that is a deep caring for the well being of another person. That person may not look like you, act like you, or even believe in what you believe. But you can extend a loving hand to that person.

One of the best ways to extend a loving hand is through volunteering to enhance the well being of others. Volunteering can be anything from giving your time to giving your skills to help another person.  Most important is the care you are giving that person. A gentle touch or a loving word can mean so much to someone who is isolated or in need.

“But what is the love you are receiving by volunteering?” you may ask. Indeed, you may not feel like the other person reciprocated or even thanked you. Yet, it is in the giving, not the receiving that you feel love.

Doing something nice for another person gives you the social connection you may have been longing for. And it makes you feel better because you are focusing on someone else instead of the anxiety and loneliness you may be feeling. Indeed, research has shown that oxytocin, the “feel good” neurotransmitter, spikes in some people who regularly volunteer. The increase in oxytocin also helps you to better manage stressful events. 

Volunteering also has health benefits, such as lowering your blood pressure. Helping others can even lessen symptoms of chronic pain because it takes your mind off your worries. In fact, random acts of kindness light up the same reward centers of the brain associated with food and sex. A natural high occurs when you give to others.

Finally, volunteering gives you a sense of purpose. When you are isolated not only do you miss the social connection but you also start losing a sense of purpose. You can find meaning and direction (as well as an activity to just get out of the house) by helping others.

As you can see, the secrete the ancients knew is supported by today’s research into giving to others. So, now get out there and do for others what you would want done for you. Share the love.

WHAT WE NEED NOW IS A LITTLE HUMOR

A medical face mask with smiley face against a blue background

Lexicon for a Pandemic

The New Yorker July 20, 2020 Issue By Jay Martel

Maskhole: An individual who wears a mask in a way that makes it completely ineffective—e.g., below the nose, under the chin, on the back of the head.

Face naked: The state of facial exposure that occurs when an individual declines to wear a mask in public. For example, “Pence went all face naked to the Mayo Clinic.”

Body mullet: What most people wear on Zoom calls: a nice top and, below the waist, underwear or less. (“Business up top, party down below.”)

The novid-19: The nineteen minutes after a too-close interaction with a maskless stranger during which you experience a thickness in your throat and a certainty that you’re dying. This sometimes lasts longer if frantic hand washing, antiseptic gargling, and estate planning are not readily available.

Overdistancing: When the guy in front of you in line has a metric understanding of the six in six feet, allowing twenty feet to open up between him and the next person in line, which then allows others to interpret that next person as the end of the line and to cut in front of you.

Domino distancing: When the person behind you in line stands too close, causing you to crowd the person in front of you, and on and on until everyone dies.

Emotional distancing: Deciding that now really isn’t the time to make big decisions about a relationship or, for that matter, to have a conversation about it.

Covideo: A short video featuring a quarantined individual’s child doing something adorable and/or profane, the public sharing of which falls somewhere between cute and a cry for help.

Stockholm syndrome: The assumption that everyone would be just fine without any government restrictions.

Someday, Noneday, Whoseday?, Whensday?, Blursday, Whyday?, Doesn’tmatterday: Days of the week.

Parenting: The ability to figure out why the PlayStation isn’t working with the Wi-Fi.

Body Zoom-morphia: Finding your own image on a group video call so unappealing that you are unable to focus on anything else.

Quorumtine: The minimum number of family members necessary to decide what to watch on TV.

Pan-demic: A potentially dangerous increase in the baking of bread in a quarantined home.

covid-30: Formerly covid-15; the amount of weight gained by an average adult during quarantine. Sometimes related to a pan-demic.

Helter shelter: That moment in the quarantine day when everything seems dirty and chaotic and you feel like saying, “Fuck it, let’s go outside. I don’t care if we die and a bunch of other people do, too.”

Flattening the curve: Trying to fit into your jeans after three months of sweatpants. (See covid-30.)

Germophobe: Formerly, crazy people (e.g., Howard Hughes); now everyone except crazy people.

Going viral: No longer used. ♦

Recovering from Loneliness in the Age of Covid-19

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Feeling Lonely? So many people feel like you do.

Before the social distancing and isolation brought on by Covid-19, there was an epidemic of loneliness in the United States. A recent poll identified three out of every five Americans as suffering from chronic loneliness. Among millennials the percentage is even higher. 

With Covid-19 even more Americans feel lonely. It’s not just about being physically alone. It’s a feeling that no one really cares about you. Yes, there is social contact online and by telephone. There is maybe even talking with someone six feet away. But none of this contact is the same as interacting with co-workers or others on site. The deep connection is missing.

Several of the patients in my practice as a clinical psychologist tell me they feel the pain of not being touched physically nor emotionally day after day.  They begin to think of themselves as not really mattering to anyone. 

Because I am also a psychology professor, I try to give my patients some ways of thinking about being alone that psychologists have found are helpful.

Realize Loneliness Is a Label about Yourself Put on a Feeling

Being alone can create a feeling of emptiness, anxiety, dis-ease.  Humans are social animals with a need to bond with others.  When this need is not satisfied, there is a feeling of lack.  Yet, it is not the lack itself, but the label attached to this lack that creates the pain of loneliness. 

In trying to figure out why there is not someone there for you, you might label yourself as not loveable.  Or you think that something is wrong with you, which whomever you are with will quickly notice. That lonely feeling, then, comes from thinking of oneself as a loser.  And when you label yourself as a loser you lose the motivation to begin or renew a relationship with others.  You then isolate even more, creating the very conditions that are distressing you.

Notice and Then Change What You Are Saying to Yourself

If you thought of yourself as loveable you might be more comfortable being alone. And you might also be more willing to seek out opportunities to be with others. 

But how do you see yourself as more loveable? First, notice what you are saying to yourself that is not helpful. Are you labeling yourself as flawed and that everyone eventually will see those flaws? That is a sure way to not venture out of your shell. Now change the flawed message to one that is more helpful.  Identify some of your attractive qualities and remember these each time you see yourself negatively.  In this way, the flaws are balanced out with the attractive qualities. 

Reach Out to Others

Now you are ready to connect with others. Yes, you will have to initiate the connection. That can be uncomfortable but, if you are now giving yourself the message that you have some positive qualities to share with others, it might be a little easier to reach out to others.

Yet, another thought might quickly enter your mind and keep you from taking action to connect with others. You might be thinking, “When I’m with others I think they are constantly evaluating me—what I say, how I look, what I do.” That self-talk holds you back so you have to change it into something more helpful.

Challenge that thought by saying “I will focus on the other person instead of focusing on the anxiety I feel when I feel I’m being evaluated.” Focusing on the other person instead of yourself takes the pressure off of what you are feeling.

Let the other person know what you noticed or heard instead of worrying about what you should reply. Stay with this stance. Everyone wants to be acknowledged as noticed and heard. It starts the connection and it deepens it.

Where to Find Others

If you don’t have some friends or relatives that you can reconnect with, try volunteering to help others. Volunteering increases your sense of really mattering to someone, which is the opposite of what you might have been thinking when you were isolating. 

Think about who you would get the most satisfaction from helping.  Would it be children, teenagers, adults in special circumstances, senior citizens?  Then do an online search for where you might be most needed.  The search terms would be the name of your city and the word, “volunteer”.  Or, you can make the search more specific, by adding the name of the group you would like to help (e.g. neighbors, homeless, migrants, special needs). VolunteerMatch.com and CreateTheGood.com are two sites that list volunteer opportunities in your local community.  Not only would you be making a positive change in your community, you would be meeting other people who are also volunteering. And in this time of the Covid-19 crisis, so many people need so much help.

If you want to help but still want to stay home, there are many ways you can volunteer virtually.  You won’t have quite the same experience of connection but you are taking the first step in reaching out to others.

Thus, by opening up your mind and focusing on the needs and words of others you will start to recover from loneliness.

Finding Real Love Online

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You meet someone on line.  Then you text.  Then you Zoom or, if possible, meet for coffee.   But why, as the interaction increases, do so many of these possible lovers turn into duds?

Maybe it is because what is presented online is not who the person really is.  Or maybe it is because spending so much time with people online leaves no time to build relationship skills.

So, what should you look for online in a possible partner?  And how do you best present yourself online?

To find the partner you really want, make a list of the qualities of that person that you feel are important for a good relationship.  Consider whether you are looking for a short-term or a long-term relationship because, in one study, both men and women focused on sexual desirability when evaluating a prospective short-term relationship.  They cited qualities such as physical attractiveness and athleticism.  Yet, when a long-term relationship is desired, honesty, warmth, kindness, and intelligence were cited.

Next, prioritize these qualities.  The first three priorities will then become what you will look for in online descriptions.  A person who really has those qualities will list them rather than just presenting superficial desirable qualities.

If only one of the qualities you desire is listed, you can use later interactions to ask questions that might elicit the other qualities or even some surprising other desirable qualities.  For example, you could ask what qualities the online prospect is looking for.  Then you will know whether there is a mismatch in what you both are seeking. Or you could ask about a time when the person told a lie and how they felt about it. 

What you often do not see immediately online are some qualities that are red flags.  Everyone is initially trying to present an ideal self. And you might be so enamored at the beginning that you are blind to the subtle cues that indicate that person is not a keeper. Often, it isn’t until you are much deeper into the relationship that these red flags begin to show.  For example, does the person want others to do things their way; blow hot and cold; get highly threatened by differences of opinion?  (More of these red flags can be found in Beverly Palmer’s Love Demystified: Strategies for a Successful Love Life).  We all show some of these characteristics some of the time but it is the insistence and persistence of them that create problems in relationships. 

How do you find out about characteristics that do not bode well for a long-term relationship when you are just interacting online?  One strategy is to ask how they would react in a given situation.  Ask, “If someone interrupted you when you were trying to tell them something important, what would you feel and what would you do?” Or, “Tell me about a time when you were disappointed because someone didn’t think or act the way you expected them to.”

Now focus on yourself. How are you presenting yourself online?  There is not a long list of qualities you have to have in order to be loveable.  There is only one main thing you have to do: listen to the other person.  Online communication or texting can present some impediments to getting the full message that is being communicated.  But, if you pause before shooting off your reply, you can pick up the essence of the message and you can let your partner know what that essence is.

Everyone wants to be listened to and acknowledged that they were heard.  Showing you have listened to others makes them feel appreciated and valued.  They then love you because you make them feel this way.

To listen closely enough to the other person to understand what they are trying to communicate is not easy.  First you have to de-center and focus on the other.  You have to let go of any anxiety or concern about how you should respond.  Focus entirely on the other person instead of what you are thinking or feeling.   After you have heard what was said, do not give your instant reaction.  Instead, repeat back the essence of what you heard.  After you have acknowledged that you understood what was communicated, you can say what is important to you.  Throughout your conversation you have to let the other person know you have listened before stating your point of view.

You might also want to assess how good of a listener the other person is.  Since two people showing they are really listening to each other could be the start of a loving relationship.

Regan, P.C., Levin, L., Sprecher, S., Christopher, F.S. & Gate, R. (2000). Partner preferences: What characteristics do men and women desire in their short-term sexual and long-term romantic partners?. Journal of Psychology and Human Sexuality. 12 (3), 1-21. https:// doi.org/10.1300/J056v12n03_0