In the past year, our interaction has been reduced to little squares on the screen which can run for hours. Although videoconferencing has become a way of adapting to pandemic restrictions, the invariable slew of video calls has taken a toll on most people’s nerves. The technological fatigue has resulted in the common eye strain, muscle pains or muscle weakness, emotional meltdown and in a worst case, a mild stroke.
Psychologist Antonio Sison quotes cyberpsychologist Brenda Weiderhold: “Aside from mechanical malfunctions and networks struggling to handle increased traffic, people are now beginning to recognize a new phenomenon: tiredness, anxiety, or worry resulting from overusing virtual videoconferencing platforms—something researchers and journalists have begun calling ‘Zoom fatigue.’”
Though Zoom is the popular interface app, it has become a generic term for the marathon virtual conferencing which, Sison points out, results in exhaustion and stress.
Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab research has been widely quoted on how technology has interrupted our intimate and nuanced human communication. The research cites that the fatigue is caused by extreme and intense eye contact (it’s not what we normally do in an in-person interaction), continuously watching and evaluating your face and gestures all day, being glued to your desk without much movement, and energy spent figuring out social cues from the body language and gestures that you otherwise easily pick up in face-to-face conversations.
Another challenge in videoconferencing is the slight delay in communication.
“This delay would entail that the persons conversing would need to concentrate in order to connect the facial expression and the verbal outputs. In online videoconferencing, there are less non-verbal cues available, thus one would need to focus more on the conversation,” says Sison.
Since the pandemic, doctors such as Sison have adapted to telemedicine which they find safer. Yet, the long hours have their downside. “Some doctor-friends had expressed feeling fatigued after seeing patients via telemedicine platform, videoconferencing meetings and other medically-related activities.”
Sison’s patients, many of them CEOs and top level management, admit to experiencing Zoom fatigue on a deeper level. He relates, “This may trigger past memories or patterns of behavior that are emotionally laden. For example, when one is overwhelmed by the virtual meetings, that same feeling connects with a recollection of the past such as taking over the family business when the father was sick. This affects how the person relates to the present stress.”
Sison teaches patients some relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and finding a mental “safe place.” To find your soothing safe place imagery, imagine a setting such as a beach, a hill view or a beautiful room which is unfamiliar yet calming.
The best antidote, writes Wiederhold, is to curb the use of videoconferencing technology and spread out the meetings by having breaks. Participants are also advised to turn off video feeds while not speaking, to reduce distraction and overstimulation.
My dog, Mochi, came out of nowhere and attempted to lick my face. Once, someone had a rooster in the background…
However, video conferencing has a lighter comic side, such as the surprise appearances of children or pets wanting to be part of the session, notes Sison.
SM Supermalls president Steven Tan is amused by animal cameos. “My dog, Mochi, came out of nowhere and attempted to lick my face. Once, someone had a rooster in the background. It was distracting but funny.”
Philippine tourism proponent Bob Zozobrado recalls a Zoom meeting when he forgot to put his mic on mute while the speaker was discussing a serious matter. “I barked at the maid to bring my iced drink. I realized my blunder when I saw the faces of the attendees who were jolted by my booming voice.”
Ultimately, Sison advises the importance of being aware of the length of time we spend before the monitor— “We must strike a balance between the ‘real’ and ‘virtual’ life.’’
Professionals share how they experience Zoom fatigue and their quick fixes:
BERNA ROMULO-PUYAT, Tourism secretary
My longest videoconferencing marathon ran for 13 hours straight for an IATF (Inter-Agency Task Force) meeting. It was exhausting, to say the least. I tend to get low back pain. I deal with it by standing up and walking around during the meetings.
BEN CHAN, CEO, Suyen Corporation
My longest videoconferencing lasted four hours with participants from three continents.
In-person meetings can be occasions for casual catch-ups—an hour of serious discussion can be broken by interpersonal banters, which can be held from conference rooms to coffeeshops. Our Zoom calls, in contrast, have been more rigid time-wise, focused solely on the business, and limited to the cold four corners of a screen. The calls lack the warmth of interpersonal interaction that a live meeting provides.
However, videoconferences are definitely more time-efficient and based on observation, push the participants to be more prepared with their presentations and more focused on the most salient points.
A Zoom call is our new normal’s business meeting. And like any other business meeting, it can be either be fun or can cause fatigue, but it is definitely necessary.
MARGIE MORAN FLOIRENDO, chairman, Cultural Center of the Philippines
You have to catch people’s attention from a small box when you are trying to say something intelligent. Meanwhile, you are conscious that people notice every expression of yours. Erratic internet connections, reading body languages through close-ups, the noise heard from unmuted participants, an overextended Zoom meeting and knowing that you are still in quarantine contribute to Zoom fatigue.
I’ve suffered from lower back aches from sitting too long as my armchair restricts my movements.
After five hours, my brain goes on low battery mode.
I turn off my camera to conserve energy, take a snack or walk around the room. This gives me time to think, and it improves my creativity. Sometimes, I try to show my profile instead of looking straight into the screen during a lengthy meeting to give me time to relax. Small talk in the middle of a meeting can also ease tension.
We think that work is more of a marathon, not a race. You need fortitude, patience and determination to weather this through
STEVEN TAN, president, SM Supermalls
During the long lockdown, I would be in meetings all day and night. At some point, there was barely any distinction between day and night. I suppose it was a way of coping with the uncertainty. Everyone was working so hard to achieve a turnaround.
Zoom can be your friend. It allows you to be mobile and in control of your meetings and general work life. But overdoing anything can be harmful. You talk louder during Zoom meetings especially when the mic couldn’t pick up your voice. There’s hardly any dead air or awkward silence. People just feel compelled to keep on talking. At the end of the day, my throat would be so dry.
It’s also unnerving to have a conversation and stare straight into your laptop camera and not the person you’re talking to. There is the absence of warmth and presence. My eyes would be tired and heavy.
Too many meetings, whether via Zoom or live, can be mentally draining. I like productive meetings where the key items are discussed in a concise manner. I’m a fan of 30-minute meetings and have been known to move schedules up.
If you’re working from home, learn the art of compartmentalization. Assign one room as your home office for Zoom meetings. Take sanity breaks.
If you’re already working in the office, then learn to decompress when you leave your workspace. Avoid Zoom meetings in the car if you can help it. The journey home after a long day should be your time to step away and check yourself. Close your eyes, take a deep breath. Have you tried car yoga? I do it all the time and it’s great. But, of course, you need a driver.
We think that work is more of a marathon, not a race. You need fortitude, patience and determination to weather this through.
PEGGY ANGELES, executive vice president, SM Hotels and Conventions Corporation
My longest marathon was a week of full-day meetings with only a 30-minute lunch break when we had back-to-back budget reviews in the last quarter of 2020. I snacked frequently and drank a lot of coffee or tea that I gained weight . My back problem recurred after long hours of sitting.
To cope with Zoom fatigue, I installed a smaller desk on top of my work desk. I can raise the computer so I can stand up during a virtual meeting. I usually turn off my camera and walk around the room to get some circulation.
LISA MACUJA ELIZALDE, CEO and artistic director, Ballet Manila
My longest marathon of virtual meetings was during our exams at the end of phase 3 for the Lisa Macuja School of Ballet. I sat in the jury for all the exams which ran 9 a.m. until 9 p.m.
Teaching online is more difficult. Since most students are working from home, some places have a slippery or cement floor, no barre, constricted space. The dance combinations and instructions need to adapt to their environment.
Students tend to copy what they see on the screen and don’t understand that when I am lifting my left hand. To them it looks as if it’s their right hand. The mirror image can be very confusing, especially to the little children.
The audio/video lag is a challenge to the musicality of the students. To me as ballet teacher, musicality and accents are so important when executing steps. I am never sure if the students are hearing the same music simultaneously. Camera angles need to be correct. Not all students have 100 percent visibility due to the lack of space. Sometimes, I cannot see the entire body of my students if they are dancing correctly. That can be very frustrating. We have a rule to keep our classes small enough so that all the students can fit into one computer screen. Still, it is hard to keep track of all the students and what they are doing all the time.
I get a case of melancholia and start to question why I am doing this?
The most frustrating is when the student or the teacher sounds choppy. Remote learning becomes impossible.
Zoom fatigue creeps up on you over an accumulated period.
Suddenly, it hits you when you are particularly vulnerable—like if you didn’t get enough sleep, or you are tired and hungry. Beyond the eye strain and shoulder and neck pains, the worse is the mental part—feelings of despair, hopelessness and sadness.
I get a case of melancholia and start to question why I am doing this? That’s a very dangerous place to be mentally—when you start to question your purpose.
Once, I was teaching a group from Taiwan. As the internet turned wonky, I kept getting disconnected. Suddenly, I broke down. I couldn’t continue teaching because of the crying. It’s a good thing my co-teacher was present to continue the class.
To cope, I read a book or do Duolingo on my phone (Spanish and Russian for now). I log on some 7,000 steps a day while praying the rosary. I also do a ballet barre on my own as a form of meditative exercise. With my titanium hip replacement, returning to the motions of being dancer gives me comfort and joy.
When this “fad” of Zoom meetings started early last year, the novelty thrilled me. I accepted invites left and right. It made me feel so “in demand.” I was online every day from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. The first few days with that long schedule were still “fun.” Several weeks after, I realized I was getting trapped by my laptop. There is more to life—offline!
BOB ZOZOBRADO, chairman, Pacific Asia Travel Association
I know Zoom fatigue has set in when I find myself staring blankly at the monitor, hearing but not listening. Then I get drowsy. Meanwhile, my mind jets off to my fun vacation in Tuscany, my sojourn in Santorini, my culinary discoveries in Cuba, etc.
Coping with Zoom fatigue is easy. I play my favorite songs and I sing out loud with them. My family already knows that when they hear me in a musical concert late at night, I’m just “detoxifying” my brain.
JONATHAN BATANGAN, first vice-president and group head, Cebuana Lhuillier Insurance Brokers and Cebuana Lhuillier Foundation
Despite working in the office again, we still hold virtual meetings among the different departments to observe physical distancing. I have average six hours of Zoom meetings. There were times I had to attend two meetings simultaneously one via laptop and the other via mobile.
The pivot to a digital lifestyle has raised expectations from management and customers. They expect you to work double time and respond within seconds. Since we are in quarantine, people assume that we can meet up virtually any time. These have contributed to a lot of stress.
Put a timeline for each topic to ensure focus. Give time for virtual breaks
My fatigue started with a back ache. But with the added workload, my nerves and muscles got numb. My doctor told me to exercise for 30 minutes every day, eat more fruits and oatmeal to lower cholesterol wrought by the onslaught of virtual conferences.
I am grateful for being a meditation practitioner. Otherwise, I would have had a meltdown. I require my office to get off the computers and spend moments of silence every 10:30 am and 2:30 pm. My secretary dims the light and plays soothing music.
Zoom fatigue is an accumulation of irritants or the psychological impact of videoconferencing practices over time. Managers should control their meetings and try methods to make videoconferences less tiresome:
To avoid delays, familiarize yourself with platform functions. Otherwise, time is wasted during the virtual meeting and people get impatient.
Stick to the agenda throughout the virtual meeting. Put a timeline for each topic to ensure focus. Give time for “virtual breaks” like 5-10 minutes every 1-2 hours to to break the monotony, especially during passionate (“heated”) meetings.
Get an assistant to co-host. Navigating through the platform is quite a challenge if you’re the host.. You need to respect the time of others.
Avoid multi-tasking and other distractions. Give your full attention even if the video is turned off and the sound is muted. Turn your phone off or better yet, put it away. Don’t watch TV, don’t cook, eat, etc.
Be more emphatic and caring. If you are the team facilitator, open the meeting room a few minutes earlier to exchange pleasantrie. Check the conditions of participants beforehand. What will help them get connected to the meeting?
TESSA ARTADI, marketing and communications head, Udenna Corporation
On the average, I do five work meetings a day plus online catch-ups with family, friends, old college buddies. The birth of ‘’e-numan’’ sessions.
It takes more effort to participate in meetings and conversations especially when there is poor connectivity. Sometimes because of challenging Wifi, I find myself talking to a blank frame with a name plastered on it, or just the generic “Zoom user.” It becomes impersonal.
I ended up with frozen shoulders and back spasms. My coping mechanisms are coffee, food, music, books and looking at the stars. When technology takes a toll on my nerves, I get bouts of sadness. I do a lot of journal writing. I write down all my dreams and do self-reflection at night. I ask: What three things did I do well? What three things gave me joy today?
JUDELL SICAM, Pilates instructor
My longest day of virtual sessions ran 10 hours, with two short breaks. I get very frustrated when I can’t give corrections through physical contact so that clients can feel the right placement and alignment of bones and muscles. I have to project my voice on Zoom.
Last year, after two months of Zoom, my neck and shoulder tensed up. My hips, especially my hip flexors, got so tight from sitting too long.
I invested in a laptop stand so that the computer is set on eye level, and it would prevent me from stooping down. Less stress on upper back.
To release tight hips, I stand up, stretch, use the Pilates Magic Circle between sessions. I rest my eyes away from the screen every hour to avoid eye strain. Looking at the view outside my window relaxes my eyes.
MICHELLE GARCIA, cluster director of marketing communications, Marriott
Zoom fatigue develops when I get easily annoyed by little things such as attendees who don’t know simple “online meeting norms”—muting if one is not the speaker, or when the program is overdrawn.
Instead of sitting in front of the computer for hours, I stand up while continuing to look at the screen and be engaged. It takes more effort, but it burns calories.