Video calls are life now.
Since the country went fully into lockdown mode, almost every aspect of life has moved online. From work meetings and conferences, to day camps and even happy hours and game nights. There is no denying that the world is spending more time behind a screen than ever before.
While this seems like the best solution while the world tries to rid itself of a pandemic, there has been an unintended side effect of all this time spent on video calls.
It’s called Zoom burnout, and it’s very real.
What is Zoom Burnout?
It’s falling asleep after teaching a long class in Google Classrooms. It’s wanting to get as far away from your computer as possible after a day of video meetings. It’s being more tired than usual and not knowing why. It’s Zoom Burnout. Or Zoom Fatigue. Or even Zoom Gloom (Thanks, National Geographic). And while there’s no scientific definition for it, this new malady refers to the feelings of exhaustion after being on video calls all day either for work or for fun.
These names are a little unfair to Zoom, given that this new fatigue is caused by ALL types of video calls, but those names just roll right off the tongue, don’t they?
While it’s a feeling that’s hard to define, the most important question isn’t what it is but rather what causes it and how can you avoid it?
What Causes Zoom Fatigue?
So, what does cause the exhaustion that seems to follow a day of connecting over video calls? We certainly seem to be using it to replace the face-to-face contact we all so desperately miss during quarantine while we social distance and stay home. Isn’t it just like meeting in person? No, it’s not.
Here are some reasons video calls are harder on our brains than in-person interactions.
Our Brains Work Harder in Video Calls
Talking to someone (or a lot of people!) over a video chat, requires more focus than a face-to-face chat. When the person we’re talking to is behind a screen, we have to work harder to process their non-verbal cues (like facial expressions), the tone and pitch of their voice, and their body language. This makes sense given that half their body isn’t even visible. According to Gianpiero Petriglieri, an associate professor at Instead, paying attention to these cues takes a lot of energy.
We Feel Like We’re Being Watched
Well, we technically are, but apparently this feeling is wearing us out. Being on a video call also makes us very aware of our own appearance, what we’re doing with our hands or our face, and if we look like we’re paying enough attention or reacting appropriately. It’s almost like being on a stage and being asked to perform every single day. Being aware we’re being watched also changes the way we act -we try to emote more to make up for being on such a small screen.
“Being performative is nerve-wracking and more stressful,” says Marissa Shuffler, an associate professor at Clemson University.
Are you sick of playing Conference Call Bingo? Mark your card every time you hear, “You’re muted” or “Can you hear me?” or “Are you there?” or “We can’t see you.” On a normal day, technical issues are exhausting. When they impact your critical daily interactions, they are downright exhausting.
It can be frustrating trying to have a conversation with someone when their internet is slow—interacting when they’re mouth is not in sync with they’re saying or there is a long delay is HARD. Then there’s the background noise when someone forgets to mute themselves and the even bigger challenge of trying to figure out how to politely tell them to mute themselves. These are not interactions our brains and bodies are prepared to have.
Technical issues are even worse when they are something we can’t control. If your productivity is limited by someone else’s tech issue and you can’t help fix it, it can be frustrating. Random silences add to this stress because not only are they awkward, they also increase our anxiety because we’re worried the technology we are relying on has failed.
More Time Pressures
Without the normal travel time it takes to get from meeting to meeting, many feel the need to make the most of their newfound time by scheduling meetings back to back. It makes sense, right? We don’t have to drive to our next coffee meeting or get across campus in time for that next presentation so let’s just pack the meetings together in order to be the most efficient. But this is a recipe for burnout even in normal circumstances. Just because you can schedule meetings back to back, doesn’t mean you should.
One user told Business Insider, “her burnout stems from the expectation of going from meeting to meeting while remaining serious and professional.” Meetings like this leave no room for necessities...like going to the bathroom. Staying professional in a situation like this can be stressful, especially when many of us might have kids screaming in the background or pets begging for attention.
Ah, multitasking. We think it’s making us more efficient, but it’s really slowing us down. Studies have shown multitasking reduces our efficiency and performance because our brain can only focus on one thing at a time. That means, our brain lacks the capacity to do both of these things successfully. It can even lower our IQ. Ouch.
Yet, when faced with the opportunity to send an email while on a Zoom call, we jump on it. The other members of the call can’t really tell what you’re doing so why not crank out a few extra tasks?
Because it’s ADDING to our Zoom Fatigue.
According to National Geographic, “the prolonged split in attention creates a perplexing sense of being drained while having accomplished nothing. The brain becomes overwhelmed by unfamiliar excess stimuli while being hyper-focused on searching for non-verbal cues that it can’t find.”
So, How Do You “Cure” Zoom Fatigue?
So, what can we do about Zoom Fatigue when there is no end to Zoom calls in sight?
National Geographic thinks it’s possible that Zoom fatigue will abate once people learn to navigate the mental tangle video chatting can cause. But in the meantime, here are a few things you can try.
Use Speaker View (Rather Than Gallery)
Speaker view feels more like you’re in a conference room listening to one person speak. It allows you to give all your attention to the person speaking rather than being pulled away by every single movement every participant makes. Gallery view (that Brady Bunch-style screen) “challenges the brain’s central vision, forcing it to decode so many people at once that no one comes through meaningfully, not even the speaker.”
Take Breaks Between Sessions (Or Try!)
This is going to mean advocating for your time. Try making calendar events longer than they need to be to give yourself some time for a bathroom break, or even just a “breathing” break. If you need a few minutes between meetings to get some water or just gather yourself, ask for it – we’re all in the same boat!
Talk Face-To-Face (Safely)
Zoom happy hours or chats with friends cannot replace real face-to-face contact. If it’s possible, make sure you’re making some time to safely visit family and friends. This might mean wearing a mask or staying six feet apart, but it’s better than yet another computer screen!
Try Traditional Phone Calls
Traditional phone calls are less taxing on the brain because our senses aren’t so stimulated. When the occasion allows for it, try a phone call rather than a video call.
Bonus Tip: Get up and walk around when on the call. Walking meetings can boost creativity and reduce stress.
This will be hard. But if you can avoid it, just don’t do it. Some researchers suggest that multitasking can actually reduce productivity by as much as 40%...so, what’s the point?
Bonus Tip: If you need to keep your hands busy, try doodling or writing down your notes on a notepad instead of taking them digitally — it's science. A study in 2009 showed that those who doodled when listening to information retained 29% more of what they heard.
Before each call, take a second to take a few deep breaths and ground yourself. Set aside distractions if you can and be prepared to focus for the duration of the call.
While it’s not the ideal way to interact, Zoom and other video chats are here to stay, so make sure you’re taking care of your brain by taking breaks when possible. Start to get creative in the ways you meet with coworkers, family, and friends.
Trying these tips and understanding how video chats impact your brain can help prevent feeling incredibly exhausted after a long day of video calls.
Want a break? Let's do a walking call.