zoom fatigue

ZOOM, ZOOM, ZOOM…..I want to go to my room!

Zoom Fatigue is described as follows in the Urban Directory:

Sore buttocks and slight throbbing of head from starting at everyone in their pajamas while participating in meeting after meeting in your dining room due to social distancing due to COVID-19.

Steven Hickman, Psy.D., executive director of the Center for Mindful Self-Compassion, says that Zoom exhaustion is real! He offers this timely perspective on managing our new virtual reality and shares 6 helpful ways to manage Zoom time and stay connected!

As a teacher of mindfulness and compassion for about twenty years, Steven believes that he is thriving when he is sitting with a group of people who are open to exploring this transformative practice. According to his friends and family, he “comes alive” when he is teaching. “I feel a familiar surge of excitement and animation when I have those opportunities”, says Steven.

However, when a colleague invited him to co-teach a short compassion session online with her, he declined the invitation. Like many of us recently, he has spent hours in Zoom meetings of various sorts, connecting with friends, family and business contacts all over the country and indeed the rest of the world as well. Zoom fatigue left its mark on him too.

“I have felt joy arising to see the faces and hear the voices of people whose faces and voices I first encountered when we were breathing the same air, standing in the same physical space, each (in Dan Siegel’s term) “feeling felt” by the other. And so, it was nice to be with them electronically in this age of social distancing and sheltering in place”, says Steven.

“I’ve been so busy lately that I thought perhaps I was just fatigued. But the more it happens, the more I realize that I end up feeling both connected but disconnected to these dear people”, he says. Now it becomes apparent that many people are feeling the exhaustion after being part of several online sessions.

This is how Steven explains the exhaustion from online presence:

Zoom Exhaustion Is Real

When online, there is a different quality to our attention. We are hyper-focused on the few available visual cues that we normally gather from a full range of available body language. Some may be totally distracted and checking email while they are supposed to be conversing or listening intently to a colleague’s detailed presentation. In a virtual meeting, where we are with several people online at the same time, we are simultaneously processing visual cues from all of those people (and perhaps a handful of their pets and children too!) in a way we never have to do around a conference table. It is a stimulus-rich environment, but just like rich desserts, sometimes too rich is just too much.

When we start to be over-stimulated by extraneous data that we haven’t had to process in the physical world, each new data point pushes us just a little bit farther away from the human-to-human connection that we all crave and appreciate. Italian management professor Gianpiero Petriglieri recently tweeted “It’s easier being in each other’s presence, or in each other’s absence, than in the constant presence of each other’s absence.” So beautifully and eloquently perceptive!

According to Steven, the constant presence of his colleagues’ absence may have been underlying in his disinclination to do what he loves on this platform that has become a lifeline for so many of us. And so, the question arises: Is there some way to ease the burden of this “disconnected connection” and allow me to foster a better balance of connection between us?

Here are six ways to manage Zoom fatigue and restore balance and connection:

With just more than a week of this lockdown period to go (and we don’t yet know if it will perhaps be extended), you will find yourself on various calls with a number people looking to connect in various ways:

  1. Take a few moments before clicking “Join Meeting” to settle and ground your attention. Take a few breaths, feel your body on the chair, notice whatever is present in your mind and allow yourself to arrive fully to the moment at hand. If you’re feeling unsettled or preoccupied, you might place your hand on your heart in a supportive and comforting way as if to say “I’m here for you. It’s ok to feel how you feel at this moment.”
  2. Take the time to truly greet whoever is in the room with your full attention—offer your attention to each face that appears (if the group is not too big). Give yourself a moment for each person to make an impression on you, and “take in the good” as people would say. Give yourself an opportunity to feel what it feels like to be in the presence of another.
  3. Choose “speaker view.” In Zoom, one can choose Speaker View or Gallery View. Speaker View is the better option so that the one person who is speaking has more of your attention and the others are more peripheral. This seems to be more like sitting around a conference table where we are aware of everyone present, but we direct our attention primarily to whoever is speaking. Tracking an array of 24 (or more) faces on the screen can be a challenge!
  4. Resist the urge to multitask. We all think we are multi-taskers and have been busy reading or sending emails while also sitting in a meeting. This needs to stop – Not because you need to hyper-focus on just what is happening in the meeting, but because you can’t be putting additional effort into attending to anything else. If anything, you must let go of a bit of “efforting” and let your attention rest more lightly and lovingly on what (and who) is before you. You can periodically ease up your focus and look out the window behind the screen, or at the dog at your feet, or just soften your gaze to take in the array of faces on my screen (to see without looking) without having to analyze or scrutinize any of them.
  5. Try to take measured breaks between sessions. Steven recommends a 50-minute hour. That gives you a ten-minute break to make notes, run to the bathroom, get a drink of water and just take a breath. Quite often, Zoom meetings run back to back and you may find that your Zoom room becomes a kind of spaces where different people from various aspects of my personal and professional life bump into each other for a few moments. You need to take better care of your precious attention and energy, and take a refreshing pause. Why not give that a try yourself?
  6. And finally, remind yourself periodically that this is a new place between presence and absence that we will have to learn how to accommodate as we go forward into the uncertain future. It is both better than absence (imagine life in a pandemic without FaceTime, Zoom, Skype and the rest) and not quite as resonant as presence (do we know if mirror neurons still function over the internet like they do in person?). Let’s see if we can simultaneously refrain from high expectations without dismissing the clear benefits of online communication.

Let us not forget the benefits of online connecting.  You can still have important meetings while only dressed appropriately from the waist up!  Our beloved pets can be in our laps while we review our colleague’s budget projections. If we are the host of the meeting we can “accidentally” mute or remove a colleague in a way that would never be socially appropriate in person. We can even claim a poor connection if the meeting is getting so dull that we are in danger of nodding off and striking our heads on our keyboards.

But on a serious note, let’s not dismiss this amazing technology, but instead learn to find a way to assimilate it into a full spectrum of interpersonal experiences that our new lives include. Let’s be present to absence, without becoming absent to presence. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it to develop this new capacity.

(For more information on Zoom fatigue, you can also visit www.mindful.org, www.psychologytoday.com  and  www.patheos.com.

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