In 2020, the world we lived in shifted base to a whole new paradigm - a digital one. In response, we quickly adapted and moved our professional and personal lives online, transforming most of our real-life interactions into virtual ones. Since then, these virtual interactions have become the norm for most of us. Yet, some of us are still struggling to manage the unique fallout of this change — virtual fatigue.
What is Virtual or Zoom Fatigue?
A few months into the pandemic, thousands of people working from home worldwide had reported feeling exhausted after multiple video conferences. This fatigue became so common that it's even birthed a slang term - Zoom fatigue - referring to the video-conferencing application that made virtual work possible at the onset of the pandemic. However, this phenomenon was not limited to those who used Zoom.
It also referred to the fatigue that resulted from the constant use of various video calling interfaces that kept us connected digitally and other productivity apps that helped us keep tabs on our work.
Why Virtual Fatigue Sets In
For many of us, the overnight shift to remote working or work-from-home seemed like a welcome change. No more long commutes to the office, the freedom to work out of our own spaces, getting to spend quality time with the family - there were many positive outcomes of this sudden shift.
However, soon video conferencing became the norm and replaced the traditional in-person meeting. Collaboration required frequent online catch-ups. Keeping in touch with loved ones was also possible only through these digital mediums.
This led us to face a few issues:
First, several nuances and non-verbal cues that we gleaned from the traditional interactions got lost in the tiny real estate of our respective laptop screens.
Silences, considered natural breaks in regular human interactions, were now interpreted as uncomfortable and made the responder appear less friendly or unfocused.
Delays in replies to messages seemed to give the impression that people weren't being productive enough or were slacking off — a worry for many, given the situation of the economy.
Moreover, the awareness of being watched on a video call made the speaker more conscious of what they were saying. Therefore, it added to the pressure of socially performing in front of many people, especially when work-related.
Lockdown, quarantine, and the general uncertainty around the pandemic also emerged as a pressing matter for most of us, contributing to the feeling of being exhausted all the time.
Dim the Screen, Lighten the Burden: What You Can Do To Overcome This
As we prepare to continue working in some hybrid model for a long time in the foreseeable future, here are a few simple ways by which you can prevent fatigue from hitting you too often.
Respect your boundaries and know when to say no - if a video conference or call is optional, you can always decline it.
If you're feeling a headache coming on, try and check if the screen brightness is the cause. Try wearing glasses as often as you can to protect your eyes as well. Drink plenty of water and stay hydrated.
Set up your home office space so it's clean and well-lit. Keep windows open for circulation. If it's possible, try and sit outside, in a garden, to bring in some variety to your routine. Ensure that you aren't craning your neck to look directly into the laptop screen.
Make sure your posture isn't suffering. Take regular breaks from your devices and go for a walk or stretch out every couple of hours to improve the circulation in your body.
Try to reduce your social media and Netflix time so as not to overstimulate your mind throughout the day. Take naps and reset!
Be honest with those around you. If you aren't up for a conference call or a long-distance reunion, speak up and say so. Don't feel obligated to stay "on" all the time.
Try and fit in at least one meaningful one-on-one interaction with family once a day to feel rejuvenated.
Stay aware of your needs, above all. If you feel the need to swap out video calls for regular phone calls, or prefer messaging apps to any verbal communication, say so. Be vocal about what works for you, and you might notice the burden lessening.
Remember that the science proving virtual fatigue is real, but so is the one that says taking breaks can help. With these practical tips to combat virtual fatigue, you can enhance your wellness and maintain a balance between your real and virtual selves.