If You Find Video Calls Exhausting, You're Not Alone — Why Scientists Say They're Bad for the Brain

Tired woman


Profile Picture
April 17, 2024 at 12:30AM UTC
If you've been feeling weirdly fatigued after talking to your friends, family or colleagues on FaceTime, know that you're not alone. According to scientists, there are several effects of video chats that make them exhausting to the human brain. Here's a breakdown of why a Zoom hangout feels way less energizing than a real one.

1. Video chats require way more focus. 

According to a BBC Worklife interview with Gianpiero Petriglieri, an associate professor who explores sustainable learning and development in the workplace at Insead, being on a video call takes more focus than a normal conversation because it requires additional work to process non-verbal cues. This extraneous task can make us feel tired or lethargic, especially if we've been alert for a long period of time. 

2. We're more self-conscious on video. 

Being in a video meeting instead of a regular meeting feels more performative (and therefore exhausting) because we're hyper-aware of what we look and sound like, according to associate professor Marissa Shuffler,  who studies workplace wellbeing and teamwork effectiveness at Clemson University. We know that thanks to how Zoom and other video platforms are set up, eyes are on us nearly the entire call, placing much more pressure on us to look attentive than we'd normally face in an office setting. 
Plus, we can physically see what our counterparts are seeing by taking a peek at ourselves on camera  — something that's difficult not to do when your square is sitting right in the corner of the screen. That can only increase pressures and fidgeting, especially in already tense social and professional climates, wiping out your energy by the end of the call. 
"It's like you're watching television and television is watching you," Petriglieri told BBC. 

3. Taking all our talks online remind us something is wrong. 

We all know subconsciously that something is very wrong in our world — there's a global pandemic going on and it keeps us from spending time with our friends and loved ones. But seeing those people on screens brings this lonely feeling to the surface of our subconscious, according to Petriglieri, and can increase the draining feelings of depression and anxiety. 

4. We feel confined when all our conversations happen in the same place. 

We're used to different social interactions happening in different places. We may hang out with friends at the bar, see our families in their homes and converse with our colleagues in the office. Now, we're seeing everyone on our screens — and its making us feel confined not only physically, but in terms of our identity. 
According to the BBC, "The self-complexity theory posits that individuals have multiple aspects – context-dependent social roles, relationships, activities and goals – and we find the variety healthy, says Petriglieri. When these aspects are reduced, we become more vulnerable to negative feelings." One of those feelings? Fatigue. 

5. We have less downtime when we're chatting all the time. 

Now that the newness of FaceTiming your friends and colleagues has worn off, it's become an obligation — especially when we subconsciously tie video chats to work. And like any obligation, you'd much rather shirk it to do things that are fun and calming, like watch Netflix or read. With our increasingly chaotic world, that alone time feels, well, increasingly important and having less of it to have awkward online conversations with people you know without the ability to let your mind wander sounds less and less appealing. 

Why women love us:

  • Daily articles on career topics
  • Jobs at companies dedicated to hiring more women
  • Advice and support from an authentic community
  • Events that help you level up in your career
  • Free membership, always