With social distancing still in effect nationally, video conferencing has become a new norm for maintaining work interactions, attending classes, and keeping in touch with family and friends. Though humanity today is able to stay connected during this pandemic with greater ease than pandemic predecessors, prolonged exposure to this form of interaction is actually having a negative effect on brain functionality, according to medical experts.
Dubbed “zoom fatigue,” psychologists are concluding that prolonged exposure to video calls and conferences can lead to a variety of negative symptoms like tiredness, anxiety, and stress. According to observers, bouncing from conference to conference as a means of maintaining communication is unnatural to the learned communication tactics that are inbred into humans’ evolution.
Jeremy Bailenson, the Founding Director of Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab states that the subconscious responses that are triggered in humans as a result of prolonged eye contact and having an enlarged face close to theirs are largely negative. He says that, in an in-person encounter, humans have a set of learned body language responses which enable us to feel more at-ease by redirecting eye-contact sporadically or responding to nonverbal cues which make it easier to understand one another. In a video call, people cannot use these nonverbal cues and subconscious behaviors to aid in interaction, which creates anxiety and fatigue.
There is also more perceived pressure to be attentive, communicative, and responsive during a video interaction than in real life, and this pressure negatively reinforces the brain, making it difficult to function through multiple calls. A reserved person may not get to speak at all, for instance, or the natural banter of a conversation is lost in an attempt to get a point across effectively.
Though it seems like the frequency of video chatting will continue to be a factor in the lives of many, there are steps that people can take to offset some of the fatigue. Suggested preventative measures include taking frequent breaks, setting up a designated workspace separate from one’s living environment, and distinguishing which calls can be made without video to alleviate some of the pressure. Though things may not get back to normal as fast as many would hope, learning to adapt to changes through small intentional practices is sure to decrease some of the stress.