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Zoomed Out? Three Ways to Deal With Video Conference Fatigue

April 20, 2021

Are you suffering from virtual-meeting fatigue?

A year ago, the COVID-19 pandemic changed the way people do just about everything. Classes, doctors’ visits and even social gatherings went virtual — from in-person to video conferencing platforms like Zoom.

Although much has been made of the virtual world’s convenience, a new study says staring at a video screen for hours can lead to stress and exhaustion. They call it video conference fatigue.

Behavioral Health Network Physician-in-Chief John Santopietro says Hartford HealthCare hasn’t been immune from video-conferencing because of COVID-19 — or the pitfalls that may come with it.

“We miss being in person,” he said. “When you are in an in-person group meeting, we catch up with each other before and after the meeting, we get into a flow.  But when we are on Zoom, it’s harder to get into that flow. It’s not as bad as conference calls, where it’s almost impossible to get into that flow in a large group, but it’s maybe 70 percent of the experience of being in person.”

The study by researchers at Stanford University outlines several solutions to alleviate the stress and fatigue of virtual meetings, including:

1)  Stop staring at yourself: Looking at yourself in the mirror all day would be exhausting, and a bit odd. The constant judgment, the nitpicking, isn’t something people would want to do it during a normal, non-pandemic day, yet they do just that during Zoom calls. Although meeting attendees most certainly watch those who are speaking, when it is their time to talk, their eyes become fixated on themselves. Before, that wasn’t even possible, but in the new world, it has become the norm. To limit this stress, try hiding the self-view during the call. Once properly framed in the camera, you can set it up so you don’t see yourself.

2)  Reduce the video-classroom screen: Conference rooms have backgrounds. There are windows, dry-erase boards and other people in the room. But in virtual meetings, your eyes are working overtime staring at the video conference. The excessive amount of close eye contact is intense and unnatural. By reducing the Zoom screen, you are giving your eyes a more natural viewing space.

3)  Turn off the camera: Yes, we know you cannot totally ignore the call, or just shut everything down. But your eyes, and your mind, need a break from the deep focus needed to engage in the zoom. A brief respite is not a bad thing.  A period of “audio only” allows you to step back, doodle on your notepad, all the things you would do during a normal meeting.

According to researchers, excessive amounts of close-up eye contact, and the intense cognitive load of being part of a video chat, are leading contributing factors to Zoom Fatigue. But when it comes to treating clients or patients, who in many cases are being seen virtually because of COVID-19, it appears that these issues aren’t a hindrance.

Make sure to combat Zoom fatigue by immersing yourself in the world outside of your screen. Spending time outdoors, exercising and journaling are all positive ways to reduce stress and to shift your focus.