Science Proves Zoom Fatigue Is Very Real

Jim Woods

Photo by Dylan Ferreira on Unsplash

Feeling exhausted after using Zoom? You're not alone, and for good reason. A recent study at Stanford University shared the results of the first peer-reviewed psychological study of Zoom fatigue. As you can imagine, the results are not very surprising. Researchers found four specific causes for Zoom fatigue that I'll go over in more detail in this post. Thankfully, there are some helpful solutions too.

1. Close Eye Contact Drains You

According to the study, when using Zoom behavior ordinarily reserved for close relationships—such as long stretches of direct eye gaze and faces seen close up—has suddenly become the way we interact with casual acquaintances, coworkers, and even strangers.

For example, let's say you're riding in an elevator. When you see the faces of others around you are nearby, you can solve this by looking down. As a result, most people in the elevator reduce the amount of mutual gaze to a minimum. But this isn’t the case with video calls. “In effect, you’re in this hyperaroused state,” says Jeremy Bailenson, founding director of Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab.

What You Can Do About This Challenge: Try minimizing the face sizes of attendees into grid view, and sit back a bit to allow yourself more personal space. You may not notice much of a difference at first, but this small change can really help.

2. An All-Day Mirror Drains Your Energy

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.

What You Can Do About This Challenge: Confirm that your lighting and setup look good, and then adjust the settings to hide your view of yourself. Otherwise you’ll just strain your brain all day long even without knowing it.

3. We Need To Move Around

In typical in-person discussions, people move around. However, when you are in a video call, 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.

What You Can Do About This Challenge: Using an external camera allows you to move around versus staying tied to the computer. This small but important change can allow you to perform better and also keep your energy levels up--even during video calls.

4. Video Makes Your Brain Work Harder

The study discovered that 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. It's no wonder that you feel really drained by the end of the day.

What You Can Do About This Challenge: When you can, turn off your camera. Take a break. Go ahead and physically get up. Walk around. Stretch. Take your body away from the screen.

The Takeaway

Hopefully, videoconferencing apps will start to incorporate more of these solutions into the application. But the ultimate responsibility lies with the users. One simple question worth asking is if you really need to have as many Zoom meetings. Even just making the meetings shorter can make a difference too. If you find yourself just having small talk in a Zoom meeting, maybe you could just wrap up on the phone instead.

These amazing forms of technology have many benefits and have no doubt made our lives easier. But at the same time, we must use them responsibly in a way that serves us.

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