Don’t let Zoom kill you mentally! — Afifah Suhaimi

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MAY 29 — Mental health expert warns that while we are witnessing the booming of a video conference application called Zoom, another problem could arise, which is Zoom fatigue.

Zoom fatigue refers to a mental exhaustion associated with online video conferencing. It also can be described as a feeling of tiredness, anxiousness, worn out or worry with yet another video call.

In brief, Zoom allows us to virtually interact with families, friends and co-workers when in-person meetings are not possible. This makes telecommuting seem much more human, as it helps us feel socially connected while practising social distancing.

Prior to the pandemic, this application is used by businesses especially top managements to replace board meetings, but now, people are using it to chat with friends and families, hosting birthday parties and board games virtually, and even for watching theatre performances.

And now, more employees are utilising this application to conduct meetings, as they are working remotely due to the pandemic.

According to psychologists, employees are the ones who suffer the most, as they spend a lot of time on this application, which may have a detrimental effect on their mental health.

And the effects of this have taken them by surprise.

"When we're on all these videos calls all day long, we're kind of chained to a screen," said Suzanne Degges-White, a licensed counsellor at Northern Illinois University.

"It's just psychologically off-putting," she said. "I've got to show up again but the thing is, we're not showing up anywhere."

Although there is no doubt that video conferencing is useful and can have their benefits as it has given us some resemblance of normal life during the lockdown, spending too much time on video calls has its problems. 

However, bear in mind that it is not really Zoom-caused fatigue. It is actually a video or online meeting fatigue, but Zoom gets the label because Zoom is the currently go-to-meeting tool for most.

What might be causing Zoom fatigue?

In short, interacting with other people through the screen causes our brain to work much harder.

Since we are required to focus with more than 1 person at once in the gallery view of the application, we tend to worry about how we speak or appear, which causes us to feel anxious or worried all the time.

What’s more, all of us are very aware that during a video call, we are being watched closely and here comes the social pressure of needing to perform well.

Indeed, these actions required us more focus and mental energy compared to a face-to-face meeting.

And when every time we want to break eye contact with the screen, we are scared to be seen not paying full attention to the meeting. 

Hence, the idea of the need to be always “on” – eyes on the screen all the time, nods the head frequently, and giving the other non-verbal cues as signs that we are present in the meeting can be so exhausting. 

It seems like we cannot relax into the discussion naturally.

In terms of personality types, experts believe that Zoom fatigue can impact different personality types in different ways.

As for the extroverts, they may find themselves scheduling more meetings than necessary which caused them to feel tired and drained. 

While for the introverts, they may find themselves focusing too much on how they come across in Zoom meetings, and sometimes, they find Zoom as a special kind of ‘hell’ for them, which is not helping them at all.

However, regardless of these personality types, the impact that Zoom may cause us can be severe and perilous. 

How can we alleviate Zoom fatigue?

Experts suggest that we should limit our video calls to those that are necessary only. Instead, make use of other ways of communicating like text messaging, email and phone calls.

Research shows that during a voice-only call, participants conveyed some information more accurately than during a video call.

But if a video call is still needed, turning on the camera should be kept optional as hiding the image of ourselves during a video call can make us feel less self-conscious and more focused on what others are saying.

Also, it is very important for us to take a break between calls and get away from the screen like catching up on a quick Netflix series or doing a simple exercise, so we can recharge ourselves. 

Creating boundaries and transitions are needed to create buffers that can allow us to tune out all distractions we got from the previous conference call, so our productivity for the next meeting can increase.

The booming of Zoom application indeed brings a lot of usefulness to us, especially during this unprecedented time.

However, we need to really understand and recognise its drawbacks so that we can consciously strive to create healthier relationships with our screens and get really connected to the people behind the screen.

And of course, to prevent ourselves from getting severe digital burnout, as if we are not tired enough, trying to adapt to this new normal and survive this pandemic.

*Nurafifah Mohammad Suhaimi is Research Assistant at EMIR Research, an independent think tank focused on strategic policy recommendations based on rigorous research.

** This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.

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