By Meg Walkley, MSW, PPSC,IFECMH-S
Brady Bunch boxes dance in front of your eyes. Crackles come from your computer. Voices compete for your attention. You leave a virtual meeting feeling like you need a long nap…you are experiencing what a friend of mine calls “Zoomhaustion”. Here are two reasons Zoom Sessions (or other web-based interactions) leave us feeling so exhausted:
The Internal-External Disconnect: Humans recognize relational connection via both external and internal processes. Our senses provide us with external cues…voice tone, body language, facial expressions, etc. to help us know if someone is familiar, friendly (safe) and interested. In a Zoom call, we receive this external input and our minds tell us that we are in some level of connection. However, our internal autonomic nervous system, which receives information about the body and our external environment, is inhibited by these physically distanced interactions. This means our blood pressure, heart rate, metabolism and respiratory systems are thrown off. The miscommunication between our external and internal processes causes us to feel physically and emotionally depleted.
Lack of Dosing and Spacing: In typical times, the rhythm of our human interactions and activities allow for a bit of spacing in between having to attend to others. When you talk with a colleague, you will both have moments of silence, where you can take a breath or think about the conversation before continuing. Face to face, this doesn’t feel awkward. However, on video calls, research shows that even delays of 1.2 seconds make people perceive a responder as less friendly or focused. So, we pick up on this discomfort with pausing, we begin to feel anxious and we jump right back in. Sometimes this means several other folks talking over one another. We are not able to take advantage of the brain breaks that silence would provide. And, even those of us who are acclimated to back-to-back meetings throughout a day, have mini breaks in between. If your meetings are typically in a variety of locations, you get to have some down-time as you walk from office to office or drive from one locale to another. In Zoom-land, you sometimes are so tightly scheduled that you have to jump off one meeting to log-on to the next. Your “dose” of meeting time is too high with too little “space” in between.
What Can Be Done?
Increase Affect: To help with the internal-external disconnect, start the Zoom session off with a discussion on how a more animated presence on Zoom will help all of the participants feel more engaged. Model this for the group, using silly examples of changing voice tone and facial expressions. Adding smiles and laughter into the session has the additional bonus of reducing anxiety and fatigue.
Build in Dosing and Spacing: If you are the host for a Zoom-based activity, use some of the features often reserved for trainings to build in some breathing breaks. Polls, break-out rooms and videos on a shared screen bring moments of transition that build spacing into the experiences. If you are participating in sessions someone else is hosting, turn off your video feed when appropriate and stand up and stretch or get yourself some water. Remember that you will be able to better attend and participate if you dose the time this way. When you plan your calendar, see if you can stagger your web-based activities so you have at least a 5 minutes break between them. The longer time on Zoom, the longer the break you will need to be able to recover and be ready for the next session. Dose these breaks with activities that help you feel more calm and connected- like drinking your favorite tea or petting your dog.
- Jiang, M. The reason Zoom calls drain your energy. April 2020. https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20200421-why-zoom-video-chats-are-so-exhausting
- Perry, B. Dosing and Spacing. NN COVID-19 Stress, Distress & Trauma Series. April 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ATSl8XhF-k&feature=youtu.be
- Porges, S. The Coronavirus Series – Interview with Dr Stephen Porges and Alice Waterfall. April 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QGY7rkm4uR4&feature=youtu.be