It’s Friday night and your friends want to have a “Zoom party.”
You’re stuck at home and have no other plans, but between work and family, you’ve had a long week of video calls. A few weeks into coronavirus stay-at-home measures, you would have gladly said yes, except now the novelty of socializing on camera has worn off.
If this sounds familiar, you may be experiencing videoconferencing fatigue.
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“You really do need that downtime to rejuvenate after being online all day for work, and having activities in the evening that allow you to disconnect are really crucial,” said Brea Giffin, director of wellness at Sprout, a workplace health organization.
“We’re not getting as much of that anymore.”
Why video calls can be exhausting
As the coronavirus pandemic continues and more Canadians are working, learning and socializing from home, screen use is way up. Between FaceTime, Skype, Zoom, Houseparty and Google Hangouts, video calls have never been easier or more prevalent.
But the technology is coming at a cost.
“Most of us don’t look at ourselves this much in the course of the day… and just seeing yourself (on video) and having to respond to yourself is exhausting,” said Corinne Hart, a professor at Ryerson University’s Daphne Cockwell School of Nursing.
“You’re presenting yourself in a particular way, and we don’t usually do that.”
Maintaining eye contact with the person you’re talking to is tiring, as is sitting in one place for a prolonged period of time. What’s more, Hart says, you need to convey you’re actively listening to someone — especially in work meetings — which means being mindful of your facial expressions.
“You have to look interested, and if you’re not, you try to figure out a way to look it,” she said. “It gets physically exhausting.”
You may also be self-conscious about others getting a glimpse into your personal space or worry about a screaming child or sweatpant-wearing partner in the background, Giffin added.
Then, there’s the technology itself.
“If you have spent any time doing videoconferences, you know that there’s often a little bit of a physical delay and a little bit of a time delay,” said Darcy Santor, a clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at the University of Ottawa.
“They have done studies that show even a second delay in someone responding will change our perceptions of that interaction — we actually tend to view it a little less positively than if it’s immediate — and it will also require that we attend more to what’s going on.”
How to avoid video burnout
Experts said it’s important to space out video calls and not book back-to-back virtual meetings. This will give your eyes and mind a break, and your body a chance to move around. It’s also helpful to take plenty of screen breaks and get outdoors as much as possible.
When it comes to work calls, Giffin said that bosses should consider whether or not the meeting really requires a videoconference or if it can be done on the phone. When video is mandatory, try to give people the option of turning their camera off unless they are presenting.
Hart said when you are socializing with family or friends on video, it’s helpful to “have an out.” This could mean you schedule a set amount of time for the call, like 30 minutes, and let the person know you have to go after that.
You can also do an activity together, like enjoy a drink or dinner, so that when the activity is over, your video call can come to a more natural end.
Maintaining social connections is vital during the pandemic, Santor said, but there are ways to connect outside of video calls. He encourages people to “get creative” with their friends and find different ways to spend time together.
“I have had clients who have gotten very clever when they go for walks,” he said. “One walks down one side of the street, the other one down the other side of the street, and they chat over the phone.”
How to say ‘no thanks’
If you don’t want to video chat with a family member or friend, it’s OK to nicely tell them you need a screen break. Giffin said it’s a good idea to set aside some video-free time for yourself, perhaps a set number of hours each day or one entire day a week, when you don’t do video calls.
“I think being honest really ensures that those relationships remain strong, and encourages others to follow your lead and allow some downtime for themselves as well,” Giffin said.
“Then everyone feels a little bit more rested and recharged.”
Hart echoes this advice and says people should schedule calls, whether they be with colleagues or loved ones. That way, you don’t feel obligated to pick up the phone any time it rings outside of your allocated “video time.”
Because video calls are important and helpful when used effectively, Santor said people should still see their loved ones on the screen but not feel obligated to do so all the time.
“Rather than saying ‘No,’ what you could say is, ‘Yes, I would love to spend some time talking with you. Let’s get together really soon. How about next week?'” he said.
“Start off with something very positive because it is really nice someone’s been thinking of you… and then pivot and make sure that it fits in with your schedule.”
Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:
Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.
To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.
For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.