It's Not in Your Head — Zoom Fatigue is Worse For Women and There's 1 Reason Why

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AnnaMarie Houlis4.87k
Journalist & travel blogger
June 23, 2024 at 11:20AM UTC

If you're tired of Zoom calls, you're not alone. In the age of the COVID-19 crisis, as many people have turned their homes into their offices, Zoom calls are ever more frequent and ever more important. After all, since many people cannot spend time with their colleagues and bosses on the company's turf, they have to connect virtually online for meetings, catch-ups, and everyday conversations.

Before the pandemic struck, research suggests that about 66% of our interactions were face-to-face. So it makes sense that so much screen time, instead, can throw you for a loop. You may feel tired between calls and exhausted at the end of the day. Maybe your eyes strain or your head hurts from staring at a computer screen all day. Your muscles may feel sore from sitting so stiff at your desk all day. And you might have anxiety about being on camera in front of other people all the time — especially for women, who are expected to look and carry themselves a certain way in the workplace. 

In fact, a new study shows that Zoom fatigue (which, by the way, isn't only for the Zoom platform) affects women more than men.  A team of researchers, who were led by Géraldine Fauville at the University of Gothenburg, surveyed about 10,500 people about their experiences with video conference calls throughout the coronavirus pandemic. The researchers created their own Zoom Exhaustion and Fatigue (ZEF) scale, which assessed the participants' levels of exhaustion based on various metrics. And they found that around 14% of the women reported feeling "very" to "extremely fatigued," while less than six percent of men said the same. The study attributes this to the previously hinted "mirror anxiety," an affliction that faces more women than men that causes them to watch their self-view in Zoom and worry about their appearance. Yes, the patriarchy is making us tired! 
So how do you combat Zoom fatigue while we are still living in a world that largely requires us to work from home or remotely? Face-to-face interactions are important for team building, trust, and easy communication, but is there a way to handle so many Zoom meetings without totally burning ourselves out?

How to Fight Zoom Fatigue

Again, if you are feeling totally burnt out from being on video calls all day every day, you are so far from alone. But, if this is your life now, there are some steps you can take to make it a little bit easier to manage. Here are 10 tips on combatting Zoom fatigue for the future.

1. Learn how to say no.

Have you ever been invited to a meeting to talk about when to schedule the next meeting? Sometimes, it just feels like there are so many meetings that could have been, you know, emails. People love to hear themselves talk, though, and so they call meetings that just are not necessary.
Similarly, not everyone is always totally aware of what everyone else actually does. So they may call a meeting and invite all hands on deck because they don't want to exclude anyone, but the meeting may not actually pertain to you. Or perhaps it does but you don't really need to be there for this one. You've certainly sat in on some meetings when you don't say a word for the whole call until the end when you say, "Thank you," before hanging up... 
If you think you could use your time more wisely than sitting in on a meeting that you don't need to be part of, you can say it. While it's not a great idea to turn down every meeting invite, you should learn how to say no to the ones that really don't serve you. Your time is valuable, after all, and you can't get your actual work done if you're sitting on calls all day listening to other people chit chat.

2. Stick to an agenda.

People carve out time for these meetings, and they expect them to run as indicated so that, after the hour is over, they can hop off the call and get to their other meetings or work that they have to do for the day. You're one of these people!
So whether you are leading the Zoom meeting or just part of it, do your best to stick to the agenda at hand (and, if there  isn't an agenda, you absolutely need to make one!).  For example, if you say that the meeting is going to be an hour long, and you break up every topic for discussion by 15 minutes each, stick to that plan. If you are leading and running over, you can always plan another session. Or send a follow-up email. Do not expect that everyone is able to stay on the call just because you can. And, if you are not running the meeting and need to jump off, jump off. You agreed to the one hour, nothing more. And you need to manage your time wisely to do your job well — that should be expected and respected.

3. Keep it relevant.

If you have a Zoom meeting about one topic, try to keep the conversation focused on just that. It may be easy to go off on a tangent, especially if you are juggling a lot on your plate, but do your best to tackle one thing at a time. The more you can zero in on the topic at hand, the more quickly you can all get through it together. And you don't want to waste each other's time trying to unpack a zillion challenges all at once.
So, if someone asks you a question that is unrelated to the meeting's agenda, kindly let them know that you can discuss it at another time or talk offline about it. And, if you have an irrelevant question, hang onto it for later or ping your colleague(s) after the call to chat offline about it or to schedule a different call to discuss it if necessary. The point is to not get side-tracked when you're one Zoom calls so that they can be over and done with as quickly as possible so you can get back to your work.

4. Hide your own face from the call.

Research suggests that, when you are on video, you tend to spend a good chunk of your time looking at your own face instead of other people's and actually engaging in the conversation at hand. This, of course, can become distracting after a while — especially if you are on calls all day. (And especially for women who are expected to look a certain way in the workplace!) 
One way to stop yourself from doing this is by hiding yourself from the view. You can remove your own face from your screen without turning off your camera. This way, everyone else can see you, but you don't have to see yourself.  Then you can spend more of your team looking at and listening to other people, instead of worrying about whether or not everyone is noticing whatever it is that you are noticing about yourself (because, news flash, they're definitely not!). 

5. Turn off your video.

Zoom video calls feel like the default nowadays, but it was not always this way. Remember when you had to just pick up the phone and call clients? You never felt the need to video call everyone. While face-to-face interaction is important, and it can be great for team meetings, it's not always totally necessary for everyone else. If you're calling someone you don't know all that well, a video call can feel intimate and awkward. And a phone call, or a Zoom audio call, could very well suffice.

If you have recurring calls for which you don't want to be on video, don't start them off on video. Set the precedent that you are an audio caller kind of person. Unless the other person or people on the call ask why you are not using your video (which is kind of an awkward question that most people wouldn't ask), you really don't owe anyone an explanation. If you feel like you have to explain, you can always just be honest that you don't feel great that day, you just got back from the gym, your Wi-Fi is spotty with video, or you just are not feeling it that day.

6. Build breaks into Zoom calls.

If you have to have a long Zoom call, build breaks into it (if you have the power to do so). For example, if you have to schedule an hour-long call with your team, schedule in a five or 10-minute break in the middle of it. It's a lot to ask people to sit on a call for an hour. Give them some time to run to the bathroom or make a quick coffee during it. 

7. Break up your meetings.

Just because you can jump on a 2:30 pm call because your 2:00 pm is just a half hour so you'll be off by 2:30 does not mean that you should. Signing off of one call just to jump straight into another call can be utterly exhausting. You won't even have a second to process the conversation before you have to be in another meeting. Plus, by the end of the first one, you'll just be sitting there thinking about when it's an appropriate time to excuse yourself and quickly sign off so you can sign on without being late to the next. Which means that you won't be giving the entire first meeting your full attention.
If you can, it's a wise idea to space out your meetings so you can breathe between them. Of course, sometimes you have no choice. And some days are more meeting-heavy than others. But do your best to plan ahead and break them up.

8. Try not to multi-task.

We're all guilty of it — sitting on a Zoom call pretending to be actively engaged in the conversation all while actually doing something else, like responding to emails, pinging people on Slack, and finishing up some other work. But research shows that switching between tasks can actually cost you up to 40 percent of your productive time — and other research purports that you won't likely remember as much of the meeting conversation as you would had you been giving it your full attention. So, while you may feel like you're killing two (or three, or four, or five) birds with one stone and maximizing your time, you might actually be doing just the opposite.

9. Wear blue light glasses.

Wearing blue light glasses can help protect your eyes from too much screen time. Because your phone and computer emit blue light, and you spend so much time on these devices, they can hurt your eyes over time. Blue light can cause eye strain, dry or watery eyes, and irritation all around. It's also known to sabotage your sleep as blue light can throw off your circadian rhythm (also known as your internal clock that lets you know when it is time to go to sleep or to wake up). 
Blue light glasses, however, may help. While there isn't a whole lot of definitive research on them just yet, blue light glasses have specially crafted lenses that block or filter our the blue lights from your digital devices. They can protect your eyes from glare and reduce the damage done. Many people who wear blue light glasses also claim to feel less tired by the end of the day.

10. Enable a blue light-blocking extension. 

Ever wonder why you feel like a zombie at the end of the kind of day when you don't do anything at all except for sit and stare at a computer screen? It's back to the blue light. (And the fact that you, often, not letting your energy out can actually suck up all your energy!) Fortunately, if you do have to sit on Zoom calls all day, there are a few blue light extensions you can download to help. Like the Blue Light Filter Chrome extension.
If you cannot or do not want to enable a blue light extension, you should at least do your best to practice healthy screen habits. (You should do this even with an extension!) For example, give your eyes breaks from time to time. You can do this by spacing out your meetings, as mentioned. Try not to use video all the time if you can get away with audio calls. And make sure to look away from your computer (and phone, and tablet, and other digital devices) every so often. Take a look out the window. Look around your house. Get up and walk around. Squeeze in time for not having to stare at a screen.

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AnnaMarie Houlis is a multimedia journalist and an adventure aficionado with a keen cultural curiosity and an affinity for solo travel. She's an editor by day and a travel blogger at HerReport.org by night.

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