Why video calls exhaust the human mind and body?

Updated: Apr 24


We’ve all experienced those days when our calendar is just a long list of back-to-back virtual meetings. A lot can be achieved in a video conference however it is often tiring us out and we become victims of the so-called Zoom fatigue. Zoom fatigue is a general feeling of mental fatigue and exhaustion caused by frequent videoconferencing. The most common physical symptoms include:

  • Headaches, irritation in eyes, and painful sensation.

  • Blurring of vision, double vision, excessive blinking, and excessive tearing.

  • Overeating, feeling sweaty or fidgeting during your calls

But it’s not just Zoom, other popular video chat platforms such as MS Teams, Skype, WebEx, Slack … offer many features that improve collaboration but, on the other hand, exhaust the human mind and body.

In this article, I explore what research say about Zoom fatigue to help us to understand what happens and what we can do to minimise it.

 

The first reason is linked to the excessive amounts of close-up eye contact and the size of faces on screens that are unnatural. When you attend a regular face-to-face meeting, you look at the speakers, at your notes, at other meeting attendees or simply elsewhere in the room. In virtual meeting, everyone is looking at everyone, all the time. On the top of that, depending on your monitor size and whether you’re using an external monitor, faces on videoconferencing calls can appear too large for comfort.

  • TIP1: When on Zoom call, exit full-screen mode and reduce the size of the window to minimise face size.

  • TIP2: Apply the 20-20-20 rule: look 20 minutes at a screen, take 20 seconds to focus your vision on something 20 feet away (6 meters). This practice helps relax our eye muscles while ensuring your vision gets time to recover before focusing back on the screen.

 

Seeing yourself during video chats constantly in real-time is fatiguing. In the real world, you are not going to meeting with a mirror. Unconsciously, you will pay attention to how you look like, your body language, what image you’re sending to the rest of the group … and this is really tiring. Studies show that when you see a reflection of yourself, you are more critical.

  • TIP1: At the start of the meeting, agree with the rest of the group that you will turn on the camera only when you will be speaking.

  • TIP2: When you use your cam, simply switch off the self-view.

 

The cognitive load is much higher in video chats. It takes more effort to have conversations through Zoom than it does in real life. This was clearly shown by a 2021 study from Microsoft (see illustration below) especially during back-to-back meetings. Conclusion is that stress in the brain is accumulating and it can decrease our ability to focus and engage. Breaks are therefore crucial also to reduce the stress of transitioning between meetings.

  • TIP1: an easy one in theory but difficult to apply. DON’T MULTI-TASK! It increases the amount of energy that your brain will use. In simple term, you’ll be more tired.

  • TIP2: consider, or reconsider the purpose of the meetings you organise or attend to. Do we need a meeting to discuss the topic? Can it be done asynchronously via emails or chat? Ask yourself those questions before scheduling a video call and also as a team to agree on best practices.

  • TIP3: Take 10-minutes breaks between meetings to allow the brain to “reset” by reducing a cumulative buildup of stress across meetings. Our brain works differently when we take breaks. If necessary, block the time slot to make sure no one will use it for another call. This will help you to make the transitions between meetings feel less stressful and you will be more engaged and focused.


Zoom fatigue Microsoft study
Image Credits: Microsoft/Brown Bird design
 

Video chats dramatically reduce our usual mobility. In-person and audio phone conversations allow humans to walk around and move. When you are at your desk on a Zoom call, you are simply sitting with limited movement which is not natural for human body.

  • TIP1: when your cam is off, stand up, walk around the room, stretch… You might consider investing in a wireless headset for that. There are plenty of exercises you can do from your chair to stimulate your body during or between meetings.

  • TIP2: Pick up the phone! When you need to discuss a topic with one colleague, instead of connecting on Teams or Zoom, you can suggest to schedule a good old phone call. It stills works. For some virtual meetings, you can also connect via phone.


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