Since the COVID-19 Pandemic hit last year and forced all learning to go online, Zoom video conferencing has become an extremely convenient tool. It is utilized for virtual happy hours, virtual birthday parties, and even virtual funerals. On top of utilizing Zoom for our social lives, we attend a day full of class in the same spot for hours while staring at a computer screen. As we currently undergo our third e-learning semester, students are burning out faster than usual. Whether we would like to admit it or not, researchers believe a main cause of burnout and stress among students points to the recent boom in video conferencing. Video calls can be extremely draining, so how can we cope with this as social distancing guidelines are still being enforced?
Now coined an official term on Healthline, “Zoom fatigue” or “virtual fatigue” refers to the exhaustion you feel after any kind of video call or conference. Zoom fatigue contributes to an overall burnout which leads to forgetfulness and difficulty concentrating, difficulty maintaining relationships with loved ones, frustration and irritability with co-workers, and physical symptoms like muscle tension, pain, and insomnia. If you find yourself avoiding, canceling, or rescheduling meetings and feeling incredibly tired after a meeting, this indicates that you are potentially experiencing Zoom fatigue. It is usually believed that virtual meetings take less work and energy but they are more exhausting than in-person meetings. Professor Jeremy Bailenson of Yale University conducted research through the Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab to discover the four causes of Zoom Fatigue. According to the study, the four primary reasons why video chats fatigue humans is because excessive amounts of close-up eye contact is highly intense, seeing yourself during video chats in real-time is fatiguing, video chats reduce our usual mobility, and cognitive load is much higher in video chats. Overtime, experiencing Zoom fatigue makes video conferencing less enjoyable, leading to students being less interested in learning. With the Coronavirus disease still impacting our daily lives, we must learn how to cope with Zoom fatigue.
In order to combat the four causes of Zoom fatigue, Bailenson recommends solutions to prevent our virtual learning experiences to cause burnout. The first solution is to take Zoom out of the full-screen option and reduce the size of the window. This will prevent the excessive amounts of close-up eye contact. Another solution is to utilize the “hide self-view” button, which can be accessed by right-clicking your own photo once your face is framed properly in the video. Seeing ourselves during virtual meetings is the equivalent to someone holding up a mirror to our face through the duration of a face-to-face meeting. This is not realistic and can be extremely exhausting and distracting. Since Zoom reduces our mobility, Bailenson recommends positioning your camera farther from you to help create distance and flexibility. He also encourages turning one’s video off periodically during meetings to give oneself a brief nonverbal rest. As many professors make it mandatory to keep cameras on throughout the duration of the class period, this is something that should be highly considered by the university. Lastly, Bailenson suggests giving yourself an “audio only” break to prevent the overwhelming cognitive load. This does not only consist of turning off your camera but also turning your body away from the screen for a few minutes. Another way students can cope with Zoom fatigue is by maintaining mental health. This can be accomplished through taking breaks when necessary, meditating, developing healthy sleep routines, and balanced eating.
Although there are many ways that students can cope with Zoom fatigue, universities should take into consideration that this is a barrier in learning. This pandemic is not an excuse to schedule more class meetings, remove breaks, and assign more work. As social distancing continues to be enforced, hopefully more universities will understand the struggles of being a student during a pandemic and will act accordingly. As we experience our second year in the pandemic, we face more pressure socially, academically, and mentally. Drawing attention to Zoom fatigue is crucial not only because it impacts our current lives but our futures. Zoom has made our lives easier, but we must remain open-minded to the potential problems that come with constant video conferencing.