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Have you, like the rest of America (and likely the world), been conducting meetings via Zoom since the pandemic began? Have you found that you feel drained and tired after Zoom calls? You’re not alone.
Much is currently being explored and written about the psychological implications that the Covid-19 pandemic has had on individuals around the world. In an article by Sean O’Hagan for The Guardian, therapist Susie Orbach characterized the pandemic as a “prolonged assault from outside on our community,” which has caused “uncertainty and unsafety” that is “new and utterly unfamiliar.”
The World Health Organization has noted that there is a global elevation of stress and anxiety, and that they expect a rise in loneliness, depression, self-medicating with drugs and alcohol, self-harm, and even suicide. The risk is such that an International Covid-19 Suicide Prevention Research Collaboration team of 42 researchers around the world has been formed.
The article also points out that a global pandemic is different than other types of emergencies because it is just that: global. Typically, emergencies will affect specific sub-sets of individuals; for example, natural disasters will cause the most psychological trauma to those who reside or work in the affected area. With Covid-19, nearly everyone has been affected in a way mental health experts are calling “unprecedented.” Those who have been infected with the virus are, as to be expected, even more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress symptoms and anxiety.
Even for those who have not become ill and who have not had loved ones become ill, however, the pandemic is still causing stress. Many individuals report mental and physical fatigue. This fatigue is precipitated not only by the fear of becoming affected, but also by the way most individuals’ daily lives and routines have simply changed as a result of stay-at-home or quarantine orders.
It turns out that virtual meetings, such as meetings and gatherings via Zoom, are affecting us psychologically. Scientists are exploring the phenomenon of exhaustion after video meetings, which has been called “Zoom fatigue.”
According to an article for the BBC by Manyu Jiang, in which two professors were interviewed, video calls require more focus than face-to-face interactions. It is more difficult to facial expressions, voice tonality, and body language, so this requires our brains to expend more focus and concentration, which consumes a lot of energy.
There is also a psychological basis as to why silence during these video calls feels so uncomfortable. While silence during normal conversation is normal and helps to set the tone of the conversation, on video calls silence sometimes means a lag or failure in technology, which can cause anxiety. One interesting study from 2014 out of Germany even found that delays on phone or conferencing systems could even cause people to perceive the delayed person in a more negative light.
There is also the performative component of being on video. On many video conferencing apps, you are forced to see your own face on screen, which is unusual and eerie. It can be stressful for many individuals to have to combine the stress of needing to perform in a meeting and watching oneself do just that during the same meeting. It puts the speaker “on stage” in a way that can be more uncomfortable than a normal meeting room.
Other factors come into play as well. Some people become anxious about virtual meetings being interrupted, perhaps by children, when that is not a concern for those people at the office. Additionally, virtual meetings do not typically allow for “water-cooler” talk, or small talk between colleagues to chat about the weekend or a sports team, which is a typical part of traditional office work. The projection of a large face on a screen can be somewhat disturbing psychologically as well, though some popular applications have taken steps to fix this and allow users to view a “gallery view” of participants without the speaker’s image being amplified while they are speaking.
Experts are also exploring the effect of the erosion of the separation of work and home life on employees. A person could engage in virtual meetings with coworkers, family members, friends, and even romantic interests in the same physical space, all in the same day. This can lead to a sort of surreal feeling about this pandemic. Virtual meetings remind us of what we are temporarily lacking. Seeing co-workers on a screen can lead to a feeling that the meeting should be taking place in the office. Doing a virtual happy hour with friends can lead to a feeling that it should be taking place at your favorite bar. Social interaction is important, but in this case it can serve as a reminder of how dramatically things have changed.
Additionally, virtual meetings can feel intrusive. Some offices have staff who are friendlier towards each other than others. A virtual meeting can feel intrusive because if the meeting is conducted from home, it gives co-workers an opportunity to peek inside each other’s homes. Some platforms offer virtual backgrounds to remedy this, though the distortion of the person’s image in front of that background can be a bit disorienting.
Another contributor of “Zoom fatigue” is the combination of pressures nearly everyone is feeling in addition to just performing in virtual meetings. Parents whose children have been out of school may feel guilty for having to work at home instead of spending time with their children. Those who are out of work feel immense stress about how they are going to pay their bills. Others are worried about the economy. Those who have kept their jobs may feel extra pressure to perform in order to continue keeping a job. Those factors, combined with having to, essentially, re-learn how to interact with other human beings, can lead to fatigue.
What can we do about it, if and until things go back to normal? Experts suggesting limiting virtual meetings to necessary ones, and considering making camera use optional. Turning your screen off to one side if possible, instead of having it directly in front of you, can also help. Experts also recommend having a discussion as to whether the virtual meetings occurring are necessary or if it is, rather, a “meeting that could have been an email.”
Finally, experts suggest “transition periods” in between meetings, or after a meeting. This could involve stretching, exercising, breaking for a meal, etc. These transitions can be especially important to differentiate between “work time” and “personal time” when working from home.

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