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Dr. Filipe Fernandes

Psicologist Neuropsicologist 

 

 

Dr. Filipe Fernandes

Causes and solutions for “zoom fatigue”

HPA Magazine 16


We often feel additionally tired and anxious at the end of a day of videoconferences or teaching@distance than after a day’s work or in-person classes. This phenomenon has been frequently described after the shift to teaching@distance that the COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to and has captured the attention of several researchers, who have named the phenomenon “Zoom Fatigue”. The term Zoom encompasses the technological means of videoconferencing that we currently use at work or in class, such as Zoom, Skype, Google Meet or Microsoft Teams.
I will focus on those that have been identified by researchers as the main causes of this increase in stress, as well as strategies to minimize them.


Causes and solutions for “zoom fatigue”


 

VERY INTENSE EYE CONTACT
In a class or in a meeting, participants' eyes are usually focused on the teacher or speaker. In a videoconference meeting, all faces are turned towards each of the participants. Natural evolution has made our brain capable of perceiving when we are the target of someone else's observation, as this could pose a threat to our physical integrity. All these eyes turned towards us looking at us from a screen, results into an increased level of stress and anxiety. It is important to remember that social phobia of public speaking is one of the most frequent anxiety disorders in the population.
Solution: Try to also hold meeting that are audio-only. Not all meetings require audio and image. If the image of the meeting or class you are attending is not important to what you are working on, you can turn off your camera for a moment and turn away from the screen, focusing only on audio.

INVASION OF PERSONAL SPACE
The speaker's face in our field of vision on a computer screen, is larger than it would be in a meeting or in an in-person class. Our brain interprets this increase in size as if the speaker were much closer to us, invading our personal space. Our brain interprets this closeness as a stressful situation, where such reduced physical closeness for a long period of time, would indicate a physical conflict or a sexual encounter.
Solution: Minimize the window of your videoconferencing application, so that the size of the speaker’s face is reduced and the perception of proximity decreases.

LOOKING AT OURSELVES 
In everyday like it is unnatural to be seeing ourselves while participation in a class or meeting. In a videoconference, it is usual for our camera to be seen on the screen, we are therefore seeing ourselves permanently on the screen. Research has shown that when we see ourselves on a mirror or image, our sense of self-criticism often increases, constantly activating negative emotions and increasing our level of anxiety. 
Solution: Turn off our camera viewpoint.

SEDENTARY LIFESTYLE
To attend school or go to work, requires a physical effort that usually protects us against stress. When working from home, teleworking or teaching at distance there is a very significant reduction in the physical exercise that we would usually do, increasing stress levels. Meetings or classes also tend to be consecutive, with shorter breaks in between, increasing stress levels as well.
Solution: Take breaks between meetings or classes and take the opportunity to stretch, take a short walk around the house, go to a window and focus on a point in the distant horizon (it also helps to relax the eye muscles). Schedule a daily exercise period.

HIGHER COGNITIVE LOAD
In a videoconference the cognitive load, that is, the amount of information that is required to be processed by our brain is greater. In a face-to-face meeting, non-verbal communication is natural and does not need processing. In a videoconference, one needs to remember that one has to be in the centr of the camera frame, making sure that any gesture made with the arms is in the frame. Any gesture has to be more evident and obvious. On the receptor side, there is also an increase in cognitive load, and in the absence of information, such as body posture, we have to pay more attention to voice intonation and other more discrete facial expression. Other’s gestures are also more difficult to interpret, and in a face-to-face meeting it is easy to understand the meaning of someone looking to the side, we can do the same and see what they are looking at. In a video call, on the other hand, we don't know where or who a person is looking at, if we look away from the screen, this will cause an even greater overload on our cognitive processing.
Technology limitations, such as video or audio failures or difficulty with the camera, mismatch between sound and image, latency in the others response (which is usually negatively perceived) greatly increases our cognitive load and stress level.
Solution: The solution to this problem is more complicated. The advice is to try to create spaces and contexts at home containing less technology and an environment which is more natural and freer from devices. For example, making sure the dining area is technology-free, by turning off the TV and message or email notifications on the mobile phone.

DIFFICULTY IN SEPARATING SOCIAL ROLES
Teleworking and teaching at distance makes it difficult to separate our professional lives from our personal lives. Our personal space is intertwined with our professional space. This fusion of social roles also makes us more emotionally vulnerable, and we may lose the protective effect of our home, which previously distanced us from the problems of work or school.
Solution: Try to create a specific area at home to work from, avoiding the bedroom. In older students, the computer used for synchronous classes is often present in their bedroom. This may even harm their night rest, as the brain will begin to associate what should be a rest and leisure area, with school work and its inherent stress.