Why Video Calls Are so Exhausting, and How to Avoid 'Zoom Fatigue'
Many factors contribute to why video conferences have become so overwhelming and exhausting, but there are things we can do to ease the stress. RichLegg / E+ / Getty Images
During this anxious and self-isolated time, video conferencing has allowed life to adapt and continue on. School has gone digital, employees check in remotely with their teams and virtual dance parties are all the rage.
Critical to all this "normalcy" during such an abnormal time are video conferencing software like Zoom, the brand often used as shorthand to describe video conferencing technologies in general. Other popular options include GoToMeeting, Microsoft Teams, UberConference, Skype and Google Hangouts.
So Why Are We Tired?
"It's Zoom fatigue," reported DigiDay. "As millions of people stay indoors due to the coronavirus outbreak, business and pleasure [have] both moved to the virtual realm. That's meant that nearly every single interaction most people are having is happening online — and whether it's because of its ease of use or its ensuing ubiquity, it's mostly happening on Zoom."
USA Today described the new form of exhaustion as "the feeling of tiredness, anxiousness or worry with yet another video call."
"I'm feeling more drained at the end of the day versus our days in the office," said ad agency president Erin Riley to DigiDay. "It all starts to blur together," Riley added, describing her ninth — or so she thinks — Zoom meeting of the day.
"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 counselor and chair of counseling and counselor education at Northern Illinois University, to USA Today. "It's just psychologically off-putting. I've got to show up again but the thing is, we're not really showing up anywhere," she said.
Many factors contribute to why video conferences have become so overwhelming and exhausting, but there are things we can do to ease the stress.
Poor sound quality is one of the biggest mistakes in virtual working — whether with video or without, reported Psychology Today.
"If it takes effort to hear people speak, the game is up," the article noted. "Invest in sound technology so that brains, wherever they are, can [focus] on each other's ideas, not on the intrusive thought, 'When will the sound get any better?'"
"Silence creates a natural rhythm in a real-life conversation. However, when it happens in a video call, you become anxious about the technology," Italian management expert Gianpiero Petriglieri told BBC. These unintended silences make us subconsciously uncomfortable.
The sheer format of video calls also creates an impersonal communication experience. Degges-White described it as creating a structure to conversation like email where one person speaks and everyone waits to reply, reported USA Today.
"That's not normally the way we do social interactions," she said. "It's not that easy give and take." Side conversations are lost and more reserved participants may never get a word in, reported USA Today. Speakers also miss out on verbal cues and affirmations from listeners who are often all muted.
Up to 85 percent of communication is made up of body language, reported Psychology Today, which gives context and depth to verbal communication being shared. Much of that gets lost or distorted in video communication, reported USA Today.
Video conferences also require more focus than face-to-face chats, Petriglieri told BBC, because we have to work harder to process non-verbal cues we do catch, like facial expressions, the tone and pitch of the voice, and body language. Paying more attention to these consumes a lot of energy. "You cannot relax into the conversation naturally," he said to BBC.
Mental focus is also an issue, either being too much or too little on video calls.
"There is a different quality to our attention when we are online," wrote mindfulness expert Steven Hickman in Mindful. "It's this pressure to really be on and be responsive," said Vaile Wright, the American Psychological Association's director of clinical research and quality, reported USA Today.
Marissa Shuffler, a workplace well-being professor at Clemson University, noted that our "awareness of being watched" when we're physically on camera adds stress. She said, "When you're on a video conference, you know everybody's looking at you; you are on stage, so there comes the social pressure and feeling like you need to perform. Being performative is nerve-wracking and more stressful," reported BBC.
"On a video call, it feels necessary to be smiling all the time. It's just the sense that our words can't stand on their own. And as a black woman, I need to not be seen as angry, or just have resting bitch face. So I'm smiling. And I'm tired," Kat Vellos, a UX designer, told DigiDay.
Another tired video conference participant called this forced facade "Wearing that 'happy girl' mask," reported Psychology Today. "In the real work world, we can find moments where we can let our mask drop, but during interminable work meetings, we feel like we have to keep on that mask as long as our video image is on the screen," the participant said.
There are also background concerns about not turning on the video screen. Leaving a profile picture or avatar up with your camera off can lead to being viewed as "absent," even if the microphone is on and you're actively contributing to the conversation, noted Psychology Today.
Riley told DigiDay, if someone doesn't have their video on, or something else is going on, there's a strange unsaid "What are you hiding?" feeling.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, many are totally distracted on group video calls.
"Frankly, people try to multitask," author Celeste Headlee told Salon, "So while you have Zoom open, you also have Twitter open, and 90 other tabs and your email, and your cell phone is sitting there. Your brain is running from one thing to another, to another, to another, to another. And it's stressing you out."
The Convivial Society noted, "It's especially exhausting to be continuously dropping a conversational thread and picking it up again. Something as seemingly benign as a notification flashing on the screen, even if we don't attend to it for more than a split second, can throw us off the thread of thought, and the momentary work of trying to pick it up again takes a mental toll."
Wired reported that despite the temptation, you can't multitask without it being "glaringly obvious." This means that video calls are also more time-consuming, adding to the stress of already-busy schedules.
Shuffler told BBC that often we feel obligated into these video calls. She queried whether we are joining the endless cooking, birthday parties, catch-ups and virtual happy hours because we want to, or because we feel like we ought to. Obligations, she noted, means more time that we're "on" as opposed to truly relaxing and being ourselves.
Big group calls can feel particularly performative, Petriglieri warned the BBC. "People like watching television because you can allow your mind to wander – but a large video call 'is like you're watching television and television is watching you,'" he noted.
The branding of a video call as fun or social also doesn't erase years of conditioning, explained Petriglieri. "It doesn't matter whether you call it a virtual happy hour, it's a meeting, because mostly we are used to using these tools for work," he said to BBC.
"With no delineation of work and home, most people I know are on calls all day," Reema Mitra, a New York brand strategist told OneZero. This has caused many to feel the need to be more available and accessible to work than if they had set hours at a separate workplace, a Japanese study recently found, reported Psychology Today.
The blurred boundaries affect our own personal health and well-being, adding to general anxiety and potentially "obsessing" over work responsibilities, Psychology Today reported. Psychology Today noted that without commutes, water breaks and chats with co-workers, many are finding their bodies beat down by the constant video calls. We are spending more time sitting and in front of our screens than before, which takes a physical toll in addition to the mental stresses.
- Limit video calls to ones that are truly necessary. Make turning video-on optional. Use your phone when necessary, allowing yourself to move around, doodle or sit outside in the sun, suggested Psychology Today.
- Turn on your camera when you join a meeting so others can see you and "know" you're there, but turn it off after that. Turn it on to speak, but off when you're listening, suggested Psychology Today.
- Take some time during meetings to check in with others before getting to work. "Spend some time to actually check into people's well-being," Shuffler told BBC. "It's a way to reconnect us with the world, and to maintain trust and reduce fatigue and concern."
- Don't multitask. Treat it like a real conversation, and divert your eyes if needed. Get up and get water or look away from your screen, suggested The Convivial Society.
- Wright suggested taking breaks in between calls to allow our brains to switch gears, and creating a separate physical space where you take work video calls and personal video calls, reported USA Today.
- Respect that workdays begin and workdays end, meaning shut down your computer screen (before re-opening it if you're going to start surfing, Zooming, gaming, etc.) and change into casual clothing, said Psychology Today. "This means that you should get out of your jammies in the morning before you begin your work shift, by the way."
The barrage of life lived through Zoom has become, for many, a "physically, cognitively, and emotionally taxing experience" as our minds try to make sense of this new reality, reported The Convivial Society. The solution is not to avoid video-conferencing altogether, but to recognize its benefits and limitations as we consciously strive to create healthier relationships with our screens and connect to the people behind them.
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Waste Mountain<p>The need for a dramatic increase in Australia's recycling capacity pre-dates the COVID-19 pandemic. <a href="https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-12-27/where-does-all-australias-waste-go/11755424" target="_blank">Australians create approximately 67 million tons of waste a year</a>, and like in many wealthy countries, much of that was sent overseas. That all changed when China announced it was <a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/10/china-has-banned-foreign-waste-so-whats-the-future-of-world-recycling" target="_blank">banning the import of a huge range of foreign waste</a> and recyclables. Soon <a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/05/malaysia-flooded-with-plastic-waste-to-send-back-some-scrap-to-source" target="_blank">other countries followed suit</a>, and Australia was forced to look for alternative solutions.</p>
Biggest exporters of plastic. Statista
Waste Export Ban<p>Australia has adopted a strategy of taking responsibility for its own waste. Starting in January 2021, it is phasing in <a href="http://www.environment.gov.au/protection/waste-resource-recovery/waste-export-ban" target="_blank">bans on the export of different forms of waste</a>. By mid 2024, Australia's home-grown recycling industry will have to deal with an extra 650,000 tons of waste plastic, paper, glass and tires.</p><p>"As we cease shipping our waste overseas, the waste and recycling transformation will reshape our domestic waste industry, driving job creation and putting valuable materials back into the economy," federal environment minister Sussan Ley said in a <a href="https://uk.reuters.com/article/us-australia-waste/australia-to-set-up-132-million-fund-to-boost-recycling-following-export-curbs-idUKKBN247060" target="_blank">statement to Reuters</a>.</p>
Timeline for Australia's waste export ban. Australian Government
Trash Into Treasure<p>The benefits to the environment of boosting recycling rates are well known – less landfill, less plastic in our ocean, reduced need for virgin materials, and lower carbon emissions. The Recycling Modernization Fund initiative aims to divert more than 10 million tons of waste from landfill, part of an <a href="http://www.environment.gov.au/protection/waste-resource-recovery/publications/national-waste-policy-action-plan" target="_blank">overall strategy to reduce the total waste generated per person by 10%</a>, and push <a href="https://www.environment.gov.au/system/files/resources/7381c1de-31d0-429b-912c-91a6dbc83af7/files/national-waste-report-2018.pdf" target="_blank">Australia's total resource recovery rate from 58% in 2017</a> to 80% by 2030.</p><p>But like many countries, Australia is focusing on the economic benefits of better waste management as well.</p><p>"This will mean Australia converts more waste into higher valued resources ready for reuse locally by manufacturers and brands in their packaging and products," Rose Read, CEO of the National Waste and Recycling Industry Council, <a href="https://uk.reuters.com/article/us-australia-waste/australia-to-set-up-132-million-fund-to-boost-recycling-following-export-curbs-idUKKBN247060" target="_blank">told Reuters</a>.</p>
Green Jobs<p>The great potential of the circular economy to create green jobs is being recognized across the world.</p><p>In the UK, the Waste and Resources Action Program has launched a <a href="https://wrap.org.uk/buildbackbetter" target="_blank">six-point plan which it claims could add $90 billion to the economy, and create 500,000 new jobs</a>. Investment in the circular economy forms a significant part of the <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/14/us/politics/biden-climate-plan.html" target="_blank">$2 trillion climate plan that Democratic candidate Joe Biden</a> is taking into November's US presidential election. And the <a href="https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_20_940" target="_blank">European Union has put its Green New Deal at the heart of its plans for recovery</a> from the economic shock of COVID-19.</p><p>The World Economic Forum's <a href="http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_The_Future_Of_Nature_And_Business_2020.pdf" target="_blank">Future of Nature and Business</a> report identifies 15 systemic transitions with annual business opportunities worth $10 billion a year that could create 395 million jobs by 2030.</p><p>As is the case with Australia's Recycling Modernization Fund, a combination of private enterprise and government investment can offer ways to get people back to work by building a more environmentally sustainable economy.</p>
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The Great American Outdoors Act is now the law of the land.
<div id="e0008" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ffc07febbf5d2d585ad06d3f43e2be56"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1290667833999929344" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">🚨Breaking News: The President has just signed the bipartisan #GreatAmericanOutdoorsAct. It will help: 🏗️ Restore… https://t.co/RPefKPMn7S</div> — Fix Our Parks (@Fix Our Parks)<a href="https://twitter.com/FixOurParksUS/statuses/1290667833999929344">1596554165.0</a></blockquote></div>
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By Andrew J. Whelton and Caitlin R. Proctor
In recent years wildfires have entered urban areas, causing breathtaking destruction.
Survivors left everything to flee the Camp Fire's path. Andrew Whelton / Purdue University
Wildfires and Water<p>Both the Tubbs and Camp fires destroyed fire hydrants, water pipes and meter boxes. Water leaks and ruptured hydrants were common. The Camp Fire inferno spread at a speed of one football field per second, chasing everyone – including water system operators – out of town.</p><p>After the fires passed, testing ultimately revealed widespread hazardous drinking water contamination. Evidence suggests that the toxic chemicals originated from a combination of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/aws2.1183" target="_blank">burning vegetation, structures and plastic materials</a>.</p>
Pipes, water meters and meter covers after wildfires destroyed them. Caitlin Proctor, Amisha Shah, David Yu, and Andrew Whelton/Purdue University
Dangerous Contamination Levels<p>Benzene was found at concentrations of 40,000 parts per billion (ppb) in drinking water after the Tubbs Fire and at more than 2,217 ppb after the Camp Fire. According to the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, children exposed to benzene for a single day can suffer <a href="https://engineering.purdue.edu/PlumbingSafety/resources/Benzene-Levels-in-Water.pdf" target="_blank">harm at levels as low as 26 ppb</a>.</p><p>The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends limiting children's short-term acute exposure to <a href="https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2018-03/documents/dwtable2018.pdf" target="_blank">200 ppb</a>, and long-term exposure to less than <a href="https://www.epa.gov/ground-water-and-drinking-water/national-primary-drinking-water-regulations" target="_blank">5 ppb</a>. The EPA regulatory level for what constitutes a hazardous waste is <a href="https://19january2017snapshot.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2015-06/documents/tclp.pdf" target="_blank">500 ppb</a>.</p><p>In early 2019, California conducted contaminated water testing on humans by taking contaminated water from the Paradise Irrigation District and asking persons to smell it. The state found that even when people smelled contaminated water that had less than 200 ppb benzene, <a href="https://engineering.purdue.edu/PlumbingSafety/resources/Dissipatiion-of-Burn-Related-VOC-From-Water.pdf" target="_blank">at least one person reported nausea and throat irritation</a>. The test also showed that water contained a variety of other benzene-like compounds that first responders had not sampled for.</p><p>The officials who carried out this small-scale test did not appear to realize the significance of what they had done, until we asked whether they had had their action approved in advance by an institutional review board. In response, they asserted that such a review was not needed.</p><p>In our view, this episode is telling for two reasons. First, one subject reported an adverse health effect after being exposed to water that contained benzene at a level below the EPA's recommended one-day limit for children. Second, doing this kind of test without proper oversight suggests that officials greatly underestimated the potential for serious contamination of local water supplies and public harm. After the Camp Fire, together with the EPA, we estimated that some plastic pipes needed <a href="https://engineering.purdue.edu/PlumbingSafety/opinions/Final-HDPE-Service-Line-Decontamination-2019-03-18.pdf" target="_blank">more than 280 days</a> of flushing to make them safe again.</p>
Plastic pipes can be damaged by heat and fire contact. Andrew Whelton / Purdue University
Building Codes Could Make Areas Disaster-Ready<p>Our research underscores that community building codes are inadequate to prevent wildfire-caused pollution of drinking water and homes.</p><p>Installing one-way valves, called backflow prevention devices, at each water meter can prevent contamination rushing out of the damaged building from flowing into the larger buried pipe network.</p><p>Adopting codes that required builders to install fire-resistant meter boxes and place them farther from vegetation would help prevent infrastructure from burning so readily in wildfires. Concrete meter boxes and water meters with minimal plastic components would be less likely to ignite. Some plastics may be practically impossible to make safe again, since all types are susceptible to fire and heat.</p><p>Water main shutoff valves and water sampling taps should exist at every water meter box. Sample taps can help responders quickly determine water safety.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9540d7e271306ed417112042a3efc9a4"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/GnlrzI1wdAI?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Smell Test Doesn’t Work<p>Under no circumstance should people be told to <a href="https://www.waterboards.ca.gov/press_room/press_releases/2018/pr122418_voc.pdf" target="_blank">smell the water</a> to determine its safety, as was recommended for months after the Camp Fire. Many chemicals have no odor when they are harmful. Only testing can determine safety.</p><p>Ordering people to boil their water will not make it safe if it contains toxic chemicals that enter the air. Boiling just transmits those substances into the air faster. "Do not use" orders can keep people safe until agencies can test the water. Before such advisories are lifted or modified, regulators should be required to carry out a full chemical screen of the water systems. Yet, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/aws2.1183" target="_blank">disaster</a> after <a href="https://pubs.rsc.org/en/content/articlehtml/2017/ew/c5ew00294j" target="_blank">disaster</a>, government agencies have failed to take this step.</p><p>Buildings should be tested to find contamination. <a href="https://www.purdue.edu/newsroom/releases/2020/Q1/study-your-homes-water-quality-could-vary-by-the-room-and-the-season.html" target="_blank">Home drinking water quality can differ from room to room</a>, so reliable testing should sample both cold and hot water at many locations within each building.</p><p>While infrastructure is being repaired, survivors need a safe water supply. Water treatment devices sold for home use, such as refrigerator and faucet water filters, are not approved for extremely contaminated water, although product sales representatives and government officials may <a href="https://undark.org/2019/09/19/camp-fire-california-drinking-water-carcinogens/" target="_blank">mistakenly think</a> the devices can be used for that purpose.</p><p>To avoid this kind of confusion, external technical experts should be called in assist local public health departments, which can quickly become overwhelmed after disasters.</p>
<div id="71cf9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="e059d199e8368d282a31601e372e4dda"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1204068265980547075" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">The Los Angeles City Council's Planning and Land Use Committee signed off on an effort to expand the city's fire-re… https://t.co/fP8Z8mUq7R</div> — IntlCodeCouncil (@IntlCodeCouncil)<a href="https://twitter.com/IntlCodeCouncil/statuses/1204068265980547075">1575907219.0</a></blockquote></div>
Preparing for Future Fires<p>The damage that the Tubbs and Camp fires caused to local water systems was preventable. We believe that urban and rural communities, as well as state legislatures, should establish codes and lists of authorized construction materials for high-risk areas. They also should establish rapid methods to assess health, prepare for water testing and decontamination, and set aside emergency water supplies.</p><p>Wildfires are coming to urban areas. Protecting drinking water systems, buried underground or in buildings, is one thing communities can do to prepare for that reality.</p>
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"We don't have a definition of life," says Kevin Peter Hand, one early California morning when we speak via video. "We don't actually know what life is."