Why Video Calls Are So Exhausting, And What To Do About It

by Maddi Butler

Published on: Sept 21, 2020

In 2020, we have a lot of things that make periods of sustained isolation more bearable. Netflix, YouTube, Spotify, and all manner of tech accessories mean it’s easier than ever to pass the time or stay connected. During the COVID-19 crisis, though, few technologies have been so ubiquitous as Zoom, the video conferencing app that’s used for everything from work meetings to online fitness classes.

When the pandemic began its rapid spread across the United States in early March, Zoom was a way to stay connected with family, friends, and coworkers whom it was impossible to see in person. Happy hours and coffee dates shifted from crowded bars to couches and screens as many of us embraced the Zoom lifestyle. But Zoom’s appeal was short-lived as people began to experience something the media generally refers to as “Zoom fatigue.”

Google searches for Zoom fatigue spiked at the end of April, and though there isn’t really a hard and fast definition, the Harvard Business Review describes it as feeling “more exhausted at the end of your workday than you used to be.” If you’ve experienced a steady decline in the number of video calls you participate in each week or have started declining Zoom invites, you’re not alone.

Why Zoom Is So Exhausting

For TED Ideas, researchers Libby Sander and Oliver Bauman dug into why video calls are so exhausting. There are a few reasons, but essentially, what it boils down to is this: Your brain has to do a lot of extra work to keep up with conversation, which means you’re using more energy.

When you speak to people in real life, they don’t communicate with just words, but tone and body language, too. In person, though, you’re more or less able to listen and process the person’s words and gestures simultaneously. On a video call, it’s much more difficult to pick up those cues (screens are small!), and your brain has to work harder to understand and process the information you’re being told.

Aside from that, there are tons of other stressors that can contribute to Zoom fatigue. For example: Will the technology work? Will my partner/pet/child wander on camera and do something embarrassing? Was I muted just now? Is that poster I’ve had since high school visible from this angle? Will this meeting end before my roommate has their call? Does my face always look like that? And beyond that, there’s the anxiety of uncontrollable circumstances totally scrambling the routines we’re used to.

Reducing Zoom Fatigue

Okay, but is it possible to alleviate Zoom fatigue?

If you feel dread every time you hear the word “Zoom,” there are a few steps you can take to try and minimize the impact of Zoom fatigue. First, allow yourself to turn down invites that aren’t absolutely necessary. Perhaps some meetings can be moved to email or a collaborative document. Outside of work, give yourself permission to scale back on game nights or catch-up chats. You can also ask whether video is absolutely necessary. For some work meetings it may be important to have everyone’s face on the screen while voice only may suffice for others.

Finally, prioritize your mental health by taking breaks. One major difference between working from home and in an office is that you may be taking less breaks at home. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take them. Try to schedule meetings so you can get up, stretch, and drink some water between so you feel refreshed instead of fatigued.