By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.
What is zoom fatigue?
If you have been engaged in much of anything during the pandemic, you probably have experienced episodes of zoom fatigue. Ever-increasing amounts of time spent both online and on-camera can be incredibly draining. Like other kinds of work fatigue, there’s a need for finding ways to reduce the impact of too much time on zoom.
My sympathies to Zoom, the company. I suspect that in the future, they’re going to have to do some things to protect their trademark. Just as googling-it has become an expression for using a search engine, zoom is starting to become a synonym for using any interactive online audiovisual program. By way of historical perspective, both Coke and Kleenex have had to fight this same battle. While I will refer to Zoom throughout this article, what I’m saying applies equally to similar online conferencing platforms.
I personally am on Zoom a great deal. I have my own Zoom subscription and a dedicated meeting room that I use for clients in my counseling and coaching practices. But I also see clients using several other online video conferencing platforms. Closely related to zoom sessions is also a massive increase in using videos for the classes I teach. It’s important to ask why students can spend all afternoon watching videos on YouTube but have difficulty sustaining attention when watching videos related to their class.
I have a suspicion that in addition to the people experiencing fatigue from using Zoom or another platform, many people are also experiencing a great deal of boredom and fatigue because of the content of those ever-increasing distance meetings.
I was a relatively early adopter of both distance education and distance counseling. Both have their advantages, and I expect to do a great deal of both in the future. But like eyestrain from the early computers and carpal tunnel syndrome from too much typing on first typewriters and later computers, each new technology comes with some challenges. For example, prolonged sessions on videoconferencing or video chat programs are not without their problems.
Zoom fatigue does not affect everyone equally.
A new study in the Journal of Applied Psychology discussed how zoom fatigue affects certain groups in the workforce more than others. First, that study, and then I’ll talk a little bit about some similar problems in counseling and education.
More time on zoom increases the risk of zoom fatigue.
This certainly makes sense. More time doing anything is likely to lead to fatigue for that particular activity. I read that some employers are now creating zoom-free Fridays or afternoons on certain days which are without teleconference meetings. Changing activities certainly is one approach to reducing the impact of fatigue and loss of interest. But if cutting back on zoom time is the answer, why aren’t video game manufacturers limiting the minutes their users can play their products so that gamers will avoid developing gamers-fatigue and stop playing?
One solution which online education has moved towards is gamifying their educational content. Make learning fun, and students don’t get bored and lose interest.
Having your camera on can increase the stress.
When having the cameras on or off is optional, meeting participants who had their cameras on are more likely to report feeling zoom fatigue. The on-camera fact was more pronounced for women and people new to an organization or recurring meeting such as a class. Furthermore, people are more likely to share at the beginning or end of the meeting when their cameras are turned off, and they’re not on display.
Not part of this study but worth noting is that the interns I supervised have reported that people who suffer from anxiety disorders or have social phobia are extremely stressed by being on camera. I hear the same thing from faculty who are trying to make students keep the cameras on. Students who in a classroom situation would sit in the back because they are self-conscious when others are looking at them can avoid that feeling of being stared at during zoom classes. The result is that people with low self-esteem or body dysmorphic disorders become especially fatigued during zoom meetings, may leave early, and look for any possible excuse to turn off the camera.
Gender and length of time at work matter.
In general, women report being more fatigued by their time on zoom than men. Also, people who were new to an organization are more likely to experience zoom fatigue. We need to be careful about drawing conclusions here, but in most mental health settings, women are much more likely to be diagnosed with anxiety disorders. Since society so often evaluates women based on their appearance putting female employees on camera front and center adds to their stress level and may make the meeting incredibly fatiguing.
Here is the study on the impact of cameras on zoom fatigue.
I tried doing several literature searches for research studies on zoom fatigue and how to cope with it. Three different search terms yielded minimal results. The term zoom fatigue returned exactly 163 results. I read through the abstracts for these studies and found primarily studies about using video platforms and techniques to study various forms of fatigue rather than studies that were focused on becoming fatigued as a result of using an online video platform. I have saved a number of these studies, which I thought might be informative, and as I have time to read them, I will try to get back to you on them.
Two other elements of remote counseling and education which may be adding to the zoom fatigue syndrome I would describe as:
Not all devices connect to all platforms, and often Internet or Wi-Fi connections don’t work well with some video platforms. Personally, I’ve had good results with Zoom, but other platforms don’t always work well. For best results, don’t get too far away from your modem, or better yet, only use devices that are plugged in directly using the ethernet cable. Walking around while teleconferencing is not recommended.
Multiple platform frustration.
I teach adjunct at two different colleges. Parts of their systems are not identical, and they keep changing. While I use Zoom for my private practice counseling and coaching clients, when I see clients for another telehealth provider, I have to switch to their platform. All this platform movement gets frustrating. Frequently when I switch from one platform to another, I get a message that the new platform can’t detect my camera or microphone. I then have to unplug the camera, microphone, or both and then plug them both back into my computer, at which point the new platform can detect them.
In the meantime, my suggestion is to try to cope with zoom fatigue in the same way that you might cope with any other form of educational or work fatigue. If anyone comes across additional information on this topic, please leave the reference in the comments section below or send it to me using the contact me form on the counselorssoapbox.com blog.
Thanks for reading.
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