Video chat has become the norm since the coronavirus pandemic began. More people at home means more video calls for work and social gatherings, and the term ‘zoom fatigue’ has been coined by health experts to mean the exhaustion that comes from too many video calls.
But Kathleen Crowley, Mental Health Counselor and Manager of Behavioral Health Services for Rochester Regional Health, says there’s more to ‘zoom fatigue’ than just exhaustion.
“Just because we can, doesn’t mean we always should,” Crowley said.
Crowley gives us her insight into the good and the bad of video calls, and how too much video can impact your health.
While video chatting is a great way to stay connected with friends, family, and coworkers, and we’re certainly lucky to have the technology to be able to connect with people in our lives with the click of a button, Crowley says it’s important to follow these few simple tips.
Establish firm boundaries for yourself before accepting a video call with friends or family. Boundaries are different for everyone based on your own level of comfort.
Examples of boundaries:
Social pressures can cause people to feel like they should loosen their boundaries.
“When you’re not able to keep and respect your own boundaries, it can leave you feeling guarded and create frustration and self-loathing.”
Dividing your personal life from your work life is important for mental health. But not everyone has the space to set up video calls in different areas in their home.
Crowley says even a small change, like a different location within a room or a different setup on your desk, can make a difference when it comes to separating your work and home life.
“Separating your spaces helps you express the different range of emotions you may be going through at this time,” Crowley said. “At your workstation you can more easily get into ‘work’ mode, while at your personal station where you chat to your friends and family, you can unlock a different range of emotions that can help you relax and let loose.”
Under normal working circumstances, people enjoy downtime while commuting to or from work, taking a lunch or coffee break, or going for a walk with colleagues. But when your home and workplace are under the same roof and your colleagues are given access to your home through video, you can be more productive, which can actually lead to burnout.
A study of 1,000 people on the benefits of working from home found that over a 9-month period, performance increased 13%—almost an extra day of output per week—and employee-quit rates dropped by 50%. But a report from the International Labor Organization and the Eurofund found that working remotely leads people to work more intensely, and in some cases, leading to “greater employee stress and burnout,” and “problems for the health and well-being of workers,” the report stated.
“Anxiety and frustration appear when people think they have to always be doing something and they raise their expectations for themselves,” Crowley said.
When you need that extra mental break from work, step away from your computer screen and decline video chats when you feel like you need to.
“Go for a walk, talk to your significant other or roommate, or pick up the phone and call someone and discuss something other than your work. We all need mental breaks.”
Overstimulation can lead to burnout and compassion fatigue, especially with gallery mode.
“Compassion fatigue is a diminished ability to care or feel compassion towards someone or something after caring about someone or something for a prolonged period of time,” said Crowley. “It has similar symptoms to burnout or being worn out from overworking.”
The constant exposure to video at home, especially in gallery mode, can manifest overstimulation.
“In a regular office, you wouldn’t have your eyes on everyone at one time like you do on screen,” said Crowley. “Your brain is working hard to process all the faces, facial expressions, and non-verbal cues at the same time. It’s not natural, and it can be quite exhausting.”
Crowley compares a video call on gallery mode (where you can see everyone's face) to a boardroom filled with mirrors.
“It would be hard to stay focused and expect your brain to process the extra images you’re being exposed to, especially for someone who is dealing with anxiety or is self-conscious about their appearance.”
Be kind and patient with yourself and your colleagues, friends, and family, Crowley advises. The amount of time we’re spending on video calls is truly unprecedented and figuring out what works for you and letting others figure out what works for them is most important.
“If speaker view is better for you, then embrace it. But if you can handle gallery mode and you are the type of person who wants to see everyone at once, then go with that. There is no right or wrong way to approach this new media, just find out what works best for you.”
Crowley says we should also ask someone if they are available for a video chat before calling them. “For some reason we’ve gotten away from asking consent before video calling people, and it’s important that we continue to respect people’s privacy and boundaries.”
It can be hard for many of us to leave a call when we don’t have anywhere to go. Crowley recommends that you should only keep your video on for as long as you feel comfortable, and you don’t need a reason to leave a call.
“Just because you might not have anywhere to go, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take a mental break. Don’t feel guilty about hanging up and don’t feel like you need to make up an excuse to leave.”
Video chat is necessary when therapists and counselors are speaking with a patient, Crowley says.
“We like to see a person’s face when we’re speaking to them so we can pick up on physical, non-verbal cues. Those are very important in our field and when we’re dealing with patients, so video is helpful in those instances.”
From a therapeutic point of view, seeing the whole person allows providers to scan the whole picture and note any changes in physical appearance that could signal a change in their situation.
Crowley believes that viewing the whole person actually applies to all employers, not just therapists or counselors.
“You shouldn’t be requiring your employees to use video so you can make sure they’re working,” she said. “Video should be to make sure you can see your employees and that they are okay, especially now when anxiety about the future, the economy, and our health, is high.”
During isolation, we all need to find ways to maintain human connections. Video chatting with friends and family is a great way to stay connected, as long as you feel comfortable.
Here are a few fun video activities you can do:
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