If you’re beginning to notice that online meetings, sessions and catch ups are exhausting, you’re not alone. That feeling of tiredness, depletion and overwhelm is down to increased cognitive load. Video call exhaustion is a phenomenon that has been well documented during the recent lockdown. We take a look at What causes Zoom fatigue & how to overcome it

Social Connection & Wellbeing 

We love Zoom and every single platform that supports human connection. It’s crucial for our wellbeing during a pandemic. Social connection, either at work or in our personal lives is one of the most effective buffers that we have against stress. When you use Zoom on a regular basis, you might have noticed that for all of the positives, there’s a downside, it can be exhausting., leading to Zoom fatigue.

Non Verbal Cues & Continuous Partial Attention

Andrew Franklin, Assistant professor of Cyber Psychology at Virginia’s Norfolk State University says “There’s a lot of research that shows we actually really struggle with this,” Videoconferencing can be a whole lot harder than we anticipated. When we speak to someone in the physical world we pay attention to non – verbal cues and micro expressions, with Zoom these are harder to calibrate. A huge percentage of our communication takes place this way. Using a screen with multiple participants presents additional work for the brain, decoding what’s happening, often unsuccessfully, leading to overload. This is known as continuous partial attention reducing our collaboration, diminishing our intuition and our awareness.

Inefficient Cognitive Load

Prolonged continuous partial attention creates an inefficient cognitive load. Working from home offers a whole host of distractions and extraneous information that we wouldn’t normally have to contend with face to face: multiple faces to keep track of on a screen, noise emanating from elsewhere in the house, the temptation to check your phone alongside the additional pressure that comes from observing your own non verbal communication during a conversation. The combination of adjusting our preferred communication style whilst managing excess stimuli can be exhausting.

All of this throws us into one of the most inefficient ways to manage our mental and emotional energy – multitasking. When our attention is pulled in a myriad of directions it reduces our performance. Our stress levels increase, activating the amygdala, the fight, flight or freeze area of the brain. An internal stress response is created, drawing on and diminishing our energy levels simultaneously. That’s why we feel so emotionally drained when we hop from one Zoom call to another. We’re inadvertently creating cognitive overload.

Switch Tasking, Cognitive Task Load & Zoom Fatigue

The reality is that we’re switch tasking on Zoom, jumping from one task to another, rapidly decreasing our performance. Researchers have found that working in this way affects our cognitive load. It typically results in increased error rate, loss of focus, along with increased stress and you’ve guessed it, exhaustion.

Switch tasking slows us down. It leaves us feeling mentally exhausted. When we pile on the pressure with excess stimuli, we’re feeding into the feeling that there’s too much to do and not enough time to do it in. It depletes our mental energy along with our resilience. René Marois (2005) at Vanderbilt University discovered that the brain responds to multiple tasks with a “response selection bottleneck” slowing us down even further as it attempts, unsuccessfully, to prioritise tasks. One Zoom session after another with no built in pauses or breaks only heightens that cognitive drain. Is it possible to stay connected whilst maintaining balance? We think so. Here’s how.

Steps to Overcoming Zoom Fatigue

  1. Avoid multitasking. Set up your workspace so that you’re less likely to be distracted. If you don’t need your phone for meetings, switch it off (you’ll be less tempted to check it). If there’s anything that you’re tempted to use as a distraction, place it out of reach.
  2. Be Kind To Yourself When You Schedule Zoom. Rethink scheduling back to back Zoom calls. Consider your circadian rhythm and when your energy levels are high, medium and low. Schedule high focus calls when your energy is high. Plot your day using your energy domains.
  3. Build in Breaks. Even when your on a Zoom call it’s important to build in regular breaks.
  4. Reduce Background Fatigue. The environment that you are in can also be a cause of distraction and background fatigue. Books, photos, shelves, windows they all require cognitive processing.
  5. Choose Speaker View. Choosing speaker view allows you to focus on the face of the person speaking. It reduces excess stimuli so that you’re not attempting to focus on 30 faces at the same time.
  6. Use a variety of media. Whilst Zoom and video conferencing is great, introducing other media, for example phone calls or email can be a useful way of switching things up. They use less energy and can offer a useful alternative when your energy moves into a medium or low phase of the day.
  7. Exercise Self Compassion. We’re all adjusting to this new way of working amidst a global pandemic and uncertainty. Things won’t be perfect, sometimes they will go wrong – accept that and cut yourself some slack. If your Zoom meeting isn’t perfect. Adopt a growth mindset and learn from it.

Want to know more about managing your cognitive load and performance? Take a look at our free Mindfulness at Work Toolkit or any of our online courses

We work with individuals, leaders and Fortune 100 companies to improve performance, build resilience and embed sustainable performance in teams. We provide a training courses, coaching and consultancy. Want to know more? Get in touch. We’d love to hear from you.

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