How to overcome 'video chat' fatigue during pandemic

As we approach one year since the beginning of closed schools and offices, the feeling of video chat fatigue persists.

"What you're seeing here is jumping from meeting to meeting, you really don't have time to process what went on in that previous meeting before moving on to new issues," said Dr. Chris Mayhorn, the Head of the Psychology Department at NC State.

A Stanford researcher is studying the feeling of "Zoom fatigue," and offering solutions to combat it. Professor Jeremy Bailenson, the founding director of the Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab, listed four reasons behind this:

1) Excessive amounts of close-up eye contact is highly intense

2) Seeing yourself during video chats constantly in real-time is fatiguing

3) Video chats dramatically reduce our usual mobility

4) The cognitive load is much higher in video chats

"Acknowledging that it is going to be stressful, but what can you do about it? Can you take a break in between? Can you look away from the screen a little but so you can get some space between that technology and the rest of your room? Can you go out for a five or ten minute break between your meetings," suggested Meredith Prescott, a licensed clinical social worker and owner of Prescott Psychotherapy & Wellness.

Prescott suggests people develop a routine prior to beginning work.

"Come up with time for you to kind of decompress before the workday. Whether that's meditating, whether that's taking a shower every morning, whether that's going for a morning walk," said Prescott.

Sitting and staring at a screen for prolonged periods of time can have physical drawbacks, ranging from eye strain to blurry vision to muscle impact.

"If your employer or your colleague or whoever you're having this conversation with is willing to take a phone call rather than Zoom, great - spend 15 minutes talking and walking. I think that's so effective, and I think that's great to get some natural air," said Prescott.

Mayhorn, like many colleagues, is currently teaching courses remotely, which presents communication challenges.

"I actually teach a course currently with about 160 freshmen who are learning about introductory psychology. One thing that kind of strikes me as the professor in this situation, is not only am I multi-tasking trying to do lots of different things at the same time, with 160 people I'm trying to monitor comments in the chat, I'm tying to manipulate my slides, I'm trying to pull up videos and pictures as well. So literally, I'm multi-tasking, and one thing I'm thinking about is cognitive load," said Mayhorn.

Working from home has also made it easier to blur the divide between professional and personal time, but Mayhorn said establishing a clear divide is important.

"If you have the option, I highly recommend people be willing to say 'no' to some of these unreasonable things, especially if you're working from home you have to realize that you have boundaries," said Mayhorn.

Looking at yourself on a screen all-day can also lead people to be more self-conscious.

"I think for people who don't feel comfortable looking at themselves because it's triggering, (I suggest) turning that feature off on the Zoom platform can really help them so they don't have to look at that. We're not meant to stare at ourselves all day. That's not really a feasible way to live our lives, and I think looking at ourselves through a magnifying class will make anyone more self-conscious about their image," said Prescott.
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