There have been numerous studies, articles, experts, etc. decrying the events of the past year and change in general as being difficult or damaging to mental health. People have more anxiety regarding their health, finances, kids’ school, and more. I heard an expert also say that we’re making far more decisions than we realize. Simple trips to the store that used to be routine have added factors such as evaluating crowd sizes, mask adherence, necessity, remembering one’s own protective gear, and so on. As such, people are tired (and collectively not sleeping well).
Two recent articles, one by Psychiatric Time and one by BBC, suggest one of the tools we’ve been using to increase interpersonal connection is also highly contributing to a sense of fatigue and stress: the videocall. Despite the benefits they have provided (enhancing communications, providing more structure and engagement in many meetings, allowing us to “travel” without having to go anywhere, and keeping the world going), videocalls may be also having adverse effects because of how often we’re using them.
Videocalls are disrupting our brains and their ability to process information in many ways from social factors to actual neuropsychological ones. Everything from constant eye contact, to technology issues, to disruptions in the brain’s reward system are contributing to what many are calling Zoom fatigue.
These factors, combined with the idea that many find videocalls compulsory or intrusive may be contributing to our sense of collective exhaustion and may be doing more to disconnect us from one another than actually strengthen bonds between people.
What do social and neuroscience experts suggest to keep them effective while not taxing our brains?
- Have more camera-optional meetings: Reduce the number of senses they need to use and the feeling that they are on display constantly
- Actually catch up on meetings: Take the time to see how people are doing and engage in old-fashioned social conversations
- Change the angle: Put your screen off to the side to help you concentrate on one thing at a time, no need to always stare into the camera. This also lessens the impact of our brain trying to make constant eye contact (which requires more effort than we realize)
- Accept flaws: The technology is not perfect. Accept the flaws and don’t allow delays in audio, video glitches, etc. to be a big deal. Reduce the pressure
While videoconferencing has been helpful, it’s not a perfect replacement for in-person, social interaction. As the world settles into a new routine, maybe we can adopt a hybrid model that doesn’t require non-stop video calls (we seemed to do ok with phone conferences in the past).