Until now “Zoom Fatigue” has only been an excuse for how tired we feel. Thanks to Professor Jeremy Bailenson, founding director of the Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab, we know it’s real, we know why, and we know what to do about it.
Here are the four reasons video conferencing is wearing us out:
- Too much close-up eye contact
- Constantly looking at our own image
- Reduced mobility
- Standard communication becomes mentally exhausting
While there are several changes we can make to address these factors, there is one obvious solution you can implement right away:
Periodically Turn Off Your Webcam
Of course, webcams are great. They help us connect and it’s important to see each other’s faces. However, like everything else, moderation is key. For years I’ve been telling people to use webcam periodically. Thanks to Bailenson’s research, my reasoning has changed. While constant webcam use is distracting, it turns out that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Occasionally turning the webcam off helps alleviate all the reasons “Zoom Fatigue” is hitting us so hard.
1. Too much eye contact:
According to Bailenson, the excessive amounts of close-up eye contact is unnatural and highly intense. “Social anxiety of public speaking is one of the biggest phobias that exists in our population,” Bailenson said. “When you’re standing up there and everybody’s staring at you, that’s a stressful experience.” Turning your webcam off takes you off the stage and gives you the rest you need.
2. Constantly looking at your own image:
There are studies showing that when you see a reflection of yourself, you are more critical of yourself. Now we’re forced to see our own faces for several hours every day. “It’s taxing on us.” Bailenson said. “It’s stressful. And there’s lots of research showing that there are negative emotional consequences to seeing yourself in a mirror.” Again, turning your webcam off eliminates the need to see yourself on webcam. Sure, you can disable the view of your own face, but that only ratchets up the stress related with the other items in the list.
3. Reduced mobility:
If you’re constantly on webcam, you’re tethered to your computer and pressured to sit still. Turning your webcam off periodically gives you the ability to stand, pace or stretch as needed. “There’s a growing research now that says when people are moving, they’re performing better cognitively,” Bailenson said. Turn off the webcam, take a step back, stretch, and crank up your cognitive power!
4. Standard communication becomes mentally exhausting:
In the virtual space, we have to work harder to both send and receive nonverbal cues. During normal conversations, this all happens subconsciously and organically. Now, Bailenson says, “You’ve got to make sure that your head is framed within the center of the video. If you want to show someone that you are agreeing with them, you have to do an exaggerated nod or put your thumbs up. That adds cognitive load as you’re using mental calories in order to communicate.” Again, turn off that webcam to give yourself a break. “This is not simply you turning off your camera to take a break from having to be nonverbally active, but also turning your body away from the screen,” Bailenson said, “so that for a few minutes you are not smothered with gestures that are perceptually realistic but socially meaningless.”
It’s clear that online meetings aren’t going away. Let’s save our energy and sanity by reducing the expectation that everyone stays on webcam constantly.
For more information about conducting more efficient and effective online training or meetings:
More free resources:
Additional Resources about webcam use:
- 3/4/21 Why Can’t I stop Staring at My Own Face? https://www.wired.com/story/cloud-support-staring-at-my-face-on-zoom/
- 2/28/21 Andrew D. Huberman is a neuroscientist and tenured professor in the Department of Neurobiology at the Stanford University School of Medicine. He made a brief comment regarding use of webcam in Zoom during a much longer conversation during a podcast with Lex Fridman: https://youtu.be/ClxRHJPz8aQ?t=9120