Zoom Fatigue and How to Set Healthy Boundaries Around Technology

July 27, 2020

Image via Shutterstock.

Nina Zorfass, IIN Content Editor

What is Zoom fatigue?

With over 75 million hits on Google, “Zoom fatigue” has become something people want to know more about. This phrase explains 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 alleviate some of the effects to make sure we’re taking care of our health for the long-term.

Impact of Zoom fatigue on mental and emotional 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.

We know that blue light – the light from our screens – can impact our sleep health and disrupt our mood. Here’s how constant video calls further affect our mental and emotional well-being:

  • 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 everyone’s eyes on you when you’re speaking, you may become self-conscious and distracted by what everyone thinks 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.

Impact of Zoom fatigue on physical health

Beyond the emotional and mental health impacts of staring at a screen for long periods of time each day, the effects on our physical health are also noteworthy:

  • 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. 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.
  • 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

You can try boycotting video calls, though we have a feeling that might not go over well with your colleagues, friends, or family. 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.

Decrease your overall technology use to improve your health.

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 or launching a new business? 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 cope with change, build resilience, and prevent physical health ailments that often result from stress and anxiety.

One of the best ways to take care of your health is to set boundaries around technology. Here are six simple ways to do that:

  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, home environment, career, and much more. Nourishing yourself through these areas of primary food is key when addressing health holistically. Learn more about this unique IIN concept through our free Sample Class.


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