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.

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.