Have you ever logged out of your last Zoom meeting for the day and found yourself completely drained?
If so, you’re not alone. A lot of people are dealing with Zoom fatigue (sometimes called virtual fatigue). It refers to the exhaustion you feel after any kind of video call or conference.
It’s not a formal diagnosis, but Zoom fatigue is very real. Krystal Jagoo, MSW, RSW, notes that it feels “similar to what we tend to think of as exhaustion or burnout.”
A lot of it comes down to the “increased cognitive demands of video conferencing communication,” Jagoo adds.
Even if you’re already plugged into modern technology, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought an entirely new meaning to the phrase “digital world.”
There are definite benefits to things like Zoom, Skype, and FaceTime, from allowing people to safely connect face-to-face to making certain jobs more accessible for those with chronic health conditions.
But as with most good things, there’s a cost.
Here’s a closer look at how Zoom fatigue shows up and how to deal with it.
Work-based burnout is nothing new,
On top of the usual work-related stress, the pandemic has caused just about everyone’s mental health to take a dip.
And yet, most of us are expected to continue working as if nothing has happened. The pandemic has affected many lives. It’s only natural that our work interactions are also affected.
The tell-tale signs of traditional exhaustion include feeling apathetic and generally exhausted, and having reduced work performance.
Key signs of burnout can also include:
- forgetfulness and difficulty concentrating
- difficulty maintaining relationships and being present with loved ones
- frustration and irritability with co-workers
physicalsymptoms, like muscle tension, pain, fatigue, and insomnia
Zoom fatigue has very similar ways of showing up, with the primary difference being that it actually contributes to overall burnout. It also tends to be linked to an overuse of virtual meetings.
Do you find yourself avoiding, canceling, or rescheduling video conference calls?
Have you noticed that after a meeting, you’re incredibly tense or tired?
Has switching to Zoom meetings impaired your ability to multitask or handle your work responsibilities?
These are all potential signs that Zoom fatigue has set in.
It’s not just your imagination. Several factors make virtual meetings legitimately tiring.
Your brain has to work harder
You have to work harder to read people’s facial expressions and decode tone through a computer screen.
Even though it isn’t something you consciously realize, it takes more effort to have conversations through Zoom than it does in real life.
“When engaging in such interaction, folx need to create the illusion of eye contact while also mentally processing their verbal communication,” Jagoo says.
As far as technology has come, there’s also still a slight delay for verbal responses during virtual connections. This can strain your ability to interpret the words of the person you’re talking with.
You’re expected to be ‘on’
There are some very weird expectations that come along with working from home, pandemic concerns aside.
Some companies require their employees to dress as if they’re coming to work. Others forbid employees from taking calls in their bedroom (not ideal if you live in a tiny studio or have roommates).
And then there are the random Slack calls that sometimes pop up, unannounced.
It’s one thing to stroll into a conference room when you’re already in the office, but having to suddenly prime yourself and your home for an unexpected team meeting is completely different.
Home life interference
Due to some of these expectations, sometimes bits of your home life show up during meetings. This can feel a little embarrassing or overwhelming (even though your boss is likely dealing with the same things).
Having to walk your team through a budget meeting while your dog is barking, your toddler is crying, and your teens are arguing over who is using whose headphones can be a lot to manage.
Balancing work with the rest of your life is hard enough as it is, but working from home adds a new layer to the challenge.
For better or worse, video calls (and working from home) aren’t going anywhere. Fortunately, there are things you can do to take back some control and not feel so drained after a Zoom meeting.
Feel OK to tap out
There are always going to be meetings that you can’t get out of attending, but there are also ones that you can most definitely pass on (or watch a recording of later).
When you do have to be on a video call, Jagoo advises taking breaks when you can.
If you feel yourself starting to get lost or tuning out, a simple “I’m going to turn off my video because it makes it easier for me to listen” can go a long way.
There’s also no shame in simply saying you need to turn off your video while you switch rooms.
There can be a lot of pressure to commit to every meeting and task due to the false equivalence of being at home meaning “not working,” but we all know that’s not the case.
Schedule Zoom meetings for things you actually want to do
One hard part about Zoom meetings is the expectation of professionalism.
You might come to dread simply seeing a Zoom notification because you associate it with having to tidy up your background, force a smile, or strain to hear someone dealing with internet connectivity issues.
Doing fun things over Zoom — catching up with family, watching a movie with your best friend, learning a new craft — can help weaken this negative association around Zoom.
Plus, scheduling time to just catch up with friends is always a great idea in these times.
Your friends and family understand the pressure you’re under, and you all can agree to have grace for each other.
If it isn’t mandatory, turn your video off
Every work environment is a bit different, but if you have the ability to turn off your camera sometimes, do it!
If you need to multitask — folding the laundry, nursing, making lunch — turning off your video can not only enable you to maximize your time, but feel less pressure to appear in a certain way through the screen.
Jagoo also suggests taking a moment “to assess whether video conferencing is even needed.” Would an audio call work just as well?
Figure out a format that works best for you
If you have any control over your scheduling, aim to figure out what works best for your schedule and for your mental health.
Maybe stacking all your mandatory Zoom meetings at the beginning of the week works best for you. Or maybe you’d prefer to spread them throughout the week. That way, no singular day feels overloaded.
You could create boundaries where your work calendar is unavailable for meetings until after 12 p.m.
Take advantage of the little things you actually have more control over now that you’re working from home.
Work-related burnout is a common issue. An ongoing global health crisis certainly doesn’t help things.
Zoom meetings (and other fixtures of work-from-home life) are likely here to stay, so consider ways that you can keep up with your work and center your own wellness.
If you’re a manager or run your own business, you can help your employees by extending some extra grace. Keep lines of communication open, and be willing to be flexible in your expectations.
Taneasha White is a Black, queer lover of words, inquisition, and community, and has used her role within both literary and organizational spaces to make room for folks who are often cast aside. She’s the founder and editor of UnSung Literary Magazine, a flash fiction and poetry publication focused on offering artistic space for marginalized voices; a guest editor with Quail Bell Magazine; and co-host of the podcast “Critiques for The Culture,” where media is dissected through humor and a sociopolitical lens. You can find her work in Prism, Well + Good, Rewire News Group, Black Youth Project, them., and more.