July 27, 2020
Last Updated:
January 29, 2021

How to Create and Sustain Meaningful Virtual Connections

Social distancing vs. physical distancing

The term “social distancing” has become a normal part of our everyday vocabulary as we navigate how to emerge back into our lives as safely as possible. But this act of putting at least 6 feet between you and another should really be called “physical distancing,” as it better reflects our changed behavior.

This distinction is important because “social distancing” implies the absence of being social or actively disconnecting from others. While mingling in large groups may affect one’s health these days, incorporating and maintaining social connection is incredibly important for our overall health, pandemic or not.

If you practice physical distancing, we encourage you to continue fostering your social connections, and interacting virtually is a great option. Whether it’s over text, phone call, video chat, or Zoom, staying connected to your inner circle, as well as your colleagues, can do wonders for your mental health. Social connectedness is crucial for adolescent development, helping them develop proper social skills, as well as positively impacting their academic performance and emotional well-being. This connectedness is also important for adults and older adults, reducing feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and depression.

Finding the amount of connection that works for you

At the beginning of the pandemic, you may have set up weekly Zoom calls with your family, friends, and work friends, but after a while, the calls became more infrequent or nonexistent. You may have felt like your energy was depleted from trying to manage stress or you simply didn’t want to look at a screen all day.

If this sounds like you, you may be experiencing what’s been coined as “Zoom fatigue,” the phenomenon of experiencing mental exhaustion due to time spent on video calls, whether working from home, taking online classes, or even trying to stay connected to friends, family, and loved ones.

This concept isn’t necessarily new, but the physical and mental exhaustion is exacerbated by our current circumstances of quarantine, physical distancing, and worrying about our health and the health of our loved ones. Avoiding video conferencing altogether may not be the answer, so we’ll explore exactly what causes this exhaustion and how to manage some of the effects to make sure we’re taking care of our health and maintaining important relationships and connections for the long-term.

Impact of Zoom fatigue on our health

Being able to video chat with colleagues, family, and friends during these challenging times has been incredibly helpful to fulfill our human need for connection, but there have been unfortunate consequences of spending so much time on video calls:

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  • We’re more likely to be sedentary while on video calls – If you need to have your video enabled, you’re more likely to be parked in one spot as opposed to being able to walk around your home – this is especially true of work calls. As we participate in more video conferencing, we have less opportunities to move our bodies naturally during the day, which can lead to a stiff neck and back pain.
  • Seeing someone but not being in person causes “cognitive dissonance” – Confusion happens when the mind and body are not in sync, making the mind work harder to make sense of the experience. This causes us to have a harder time easing into conversation and spend more energy trying to absorb important information. This dissonance can also cause miscommunication as you can’t properly read someone’s verbal cues and body language on video, especially with potential delays in streaming.
  • Being on video can create self-consciousness – In addition to trying to look like you’re paying full attention, you may become hyper aware of what you look and sound like on camera. With all eyes on you when you’re speaking, you may become self-conscious and distracted by what they of you, what you’re wearing, or what your background looks like. This self-consciousness further pulls your focus away from the conversation and causes a preoccupation with and concern about your appearance.
  • Increased mental attention leads to increased mental exhaustion and burnout – Being on a video call demands more mental energy and attention because we are not only trying to focus on the conversation at hand but also restraining ourselves from answering emails, texting, or scrolling through social media. Eventually, you may experience stress, anxiety, difficulty concentrating, lack of interest, pessimistic attitude, and increased negative thoughts.
  • Our mental exhaustion can lead to physical symptoms – The emotional toll of Zoom fatigue can manifest physically in the form of headaches, teary or strained eyes, and of course, fatigue and lethargy. When you’re not feeling your best, you’re likely not thinking or brainstorming at your best; it’s a vicious cycle that will just continue if boundaries aren’t established.

Five tips to combat Zoom fatigue

If you find yourself on Zoom a lot for work, here are five easy ways to strike a better balance while still participating in video calls:

  1. Set expectations – If you feel like you have to enable video, check in with the person/people you’re engaging with. Being open and honest about needing to take a break is encouraged and may even inspire them to open up about their own video call struggles, fostering a stronger virtual connection.
  2. Make at least one call per day audio only – This will give you the option to walk around your home or simply stare into space to give your eyes a break – as long as you’re still focused on the conversation and not using it as an excuse to multitask!
  3. Try to avoid back-to-back meetings – This might be difficult to do every day, but if you’re in charge of scheduling particular meetings, be sure to give yourself a break before and after each meeting. This will allow you to recharge, regroup, and be more present and focused – not to mention give you the opportunity to hydrate, use the bathroom, eat something, and/or stretch!
  4. Avoid multitasking – When participating in video calls, whether for work or socially, aim to stay focused on the conversation instead of opening up your browser to read the news or being on your phone to check Instagram. Even though you’re already looking at a screen during the call, multitasking puts extra stress on your mind as you try to listen to the conversation and read the news or comment on someone’s picture. Chances are, you’re not going to listen well enough to stay engaged.
  5. Designate a space for video calls – If your home allows you to move around for a “change of scenery,” take advantage of it by designating one spot to have your video calls. You can arrange the background exactly the way you want it so you never have to worry about a stray piece of laundry or someone interrupting you. This will also allow you to get into the right mind-set, preparing you to be focused for the duration of your call. If this isn’t accessible to you, whether you have roommates or a partner working in the same space, check in with each other about your schedules to make sure you can limit distractions as much as possible.

Five ways to create and maintain meaningful social connections right now

Now that you’ve begun to manage your fatigue from video conferencing for most of your day, here are five ways to continue cultivating positive connections in your social life for a healthier, happier you:

  1. Schedule a regular call with family, friends, or loved ones – This may be the easiest way for many of us to maintain regular contact with the important people in our lives. Try to find a time that works for everyone, and no need to make the call long; 20-30 minutes is perfect for a lively discussion where everyone shares life updates.
  2. Share a virtual dinner – Just because you can’t go out to dinner with a friend like you used to, doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a meal together! Meet with a friend over a video call with a home-cooked dinner and a glass of wine; or better yet, make it a monthly event where you alternate picking recipes and you both cook the same meal.
  3. Plan your topics of conversation – It may seem strange to plan what you’ll talk about in advance, but it could help you get out of the usual small talk about work and life. Watch the same documentary or read the same book, and then discuss what resonated with you. You’ll likely find that conversation ends up blossoming from there!
  4. Take a virtual workout class – Whether it’s a yoga, HIIT, or barre class, get a few of your colleagues together to take the same class in your own homes, or if you’re comfortable, head outside to a park where you can physically distance your mats. Since many of us no longer have our usual office socialization, it helps to get creative and do an activity that you normally would’ve done together. This can strengthen your bond as teammates and help you feel more connected to those you only see occasionally via video conferences.
  5. Ask for support from those you feel most comfortable with – Feelings of stress and anxiety have been high, and at times it can feel overwhelming, especially if you can’t physically see someone who provides you with comfort. It’s important that we continue reaching out to those who lift us up and make us feel good. Never underestimate the power of a 5-minute conversation with that friend who can make you laugh!

Improve your connection with yourself by adjusting your technology use

Technology has kept us all connected during this difficult time, but our reliance on technology to give us a sense of security or belonging has almost the opposite effect sometimes.

Have you ever felt anxious scrolling through your Instagram feed, comparing yourself to others who seem to be perfecting the art of self-care? You’re not alone. As our minds and bodies grapple with the stress and uncertainty of what’s happening in the world, we try to distract ourselves with external things so we don’t have to sit quietly with our own thoughts. It’s more important than ever to learn how to take care of our emotional and mental health so that we can prevent those feelings of stress and anxiety that can manifest in many ways.

Here are six simple ways to adjust your technology use:

  1. Put your phone away one hour before bedtime.
  2. When you wake up, don’t immediately reach for your phone; take three deep breaths instead.
  3. Set a limit on how much time you spend on social media.
  4. If you find yourself feeling anxious or annoyed while scrolling through social media, put your phone down and take three deep breaths (and don’t resume scrolling).
  5. Put your phone away during meals, meetings, and in-person conversations with your partner or roommate(s).
  6. Keep your phone on vibrate or silent (if possible).

By learning how to be more present, you will learn to listen to your body – something Health Coaches often help their clients with as its part of discovering what foods and lifestyle practices work best for their unique bodies and minds. Health Coaches also help clients explore what areas of their lives need more nourishment, which can include relationships of all kinds. Nourishing yourself through this particular area of primary food is key when addressing health holistically. Learn more about this unique IIN concept through our free Sample Class.

Author Biography
Nina Zorfass
IIN Content Writer

Nina holds a bachelor’s in dietetics, nutrition, and food sciences from the University of Vermont, is a graduate of IIN’s Health Coach Training Program, and is an NASM-Certified Personal Trainer.

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