That bleary-eyed, foggy-brained feeling of “Zoom fatigue” is a widely accepted pandemic phenomenon—but how can you prevent it? And what exactly causes it?
Researchers at Stanford University just released the first peer-reviewed, psychological study of Zoom fatigue, and its results are surprising. Researchers found four quite different causes, as well as helpful solutions for each:
1. CLOSE-UP EYE CONTACT IS EXHAUSTING
In a typical Zoom discussion, the amount of intensive eye contact far exceeds what you would experience in real-life interactions. Think about it: When you take a walk-and-talk with a friend, you might have mere moments of eye contact; in a conference room, listeners look at their screens and their notes or gaze out the window. At the same time, Zoom faces are typically larger and closer than you’d experience in real-life work discussions, which fool your mind into perceiving an intensely intimate conversation. “In effect, you’re in this hyperaroused state,” says Jeremy Bailenson, founding director of Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab.
The fix: Minimize the face sizes of attendees into grid view, and sit back a bit to allow yourself more personal space.
2. WATCHING YOURSELF IS EXHAUSTING
In real life, you are not followed by a mirror, and you might spend five minutes a day looking at your reflection. The researchers cite studies showing that when seeing one’s own reflection, people are more critical of themselves. “It’s taxing on us. It’s stressful. And there’s lots of research showing that there are negative emotional consequences to seeing yourself in a mirror,” says Bailenson.
The fix: Confirm that your lighting and setup look good, and then adjust the settings to hide your view of yourself.
3. SITTING IMMOBILE IS EXHAUSTING
In typical in-person discussions, people move around. On Zoom, people sit immobile for hours on end. “There’s a growing research that says that when people are moving, they’re performing better cognitively,” says Bailenson.
The fix: Create a wider visual field for your camera. For example, an external camera often allows you more space to move than a laptop camera, because you no longer need to remain within arm’s reach of the keyboard.
4. VIDEO CHATTING IS COGNITIVELY EXHAUSTING
Your brain works much harder to send and receive cues through a screen. Multiply that into hours of exaggerated expressions and increased concentration, and your mind simply consumes more power.
The fix: When it’s feasible, turn off your camera for breaks—and turn your body away from the screen.
The researchers hope that videoconferencing apps will incorporate solutions to these problems into their basic setups.
By the way, none of these fatigue inducers are specific to Zoom—they apply to all videoconferencing. We do not envy the Zoom marketing staff tasked with removing “Zoom fatigue” from the lexicon. You can take a quiz on your own Zoom fatigue here.