How to Prevent Zoom Fatigue

Zoom fatigue — the mental and physical strain of back-to-back video calls — became a major concern in 2020. For some workers, the challenges remain.

Written by Dawn Kawamoto
How to Prevent Zoom Fatigue
Image: Shutterstock / Built In
UPDATED BY
Brennan Whitfield | Dec 04, 2023

Ever feel like your brain is mush after sitting through a string of Zoom video calls?

You’re not alone. It turns out that 26 percent of adults who use video conferencing frequently say they are suffering from Zoom fatigue, according to a 2022 Pew Research Center survey of 2,767 U.S. adults.

What Is Zoom Fatigue?

Zoom fatigue is a form of mental and physical exhaustion that comes with sitting through a string of video calls within a given day.

Here’s a deeper dive into what Zoom fatigue is, its symptoms and, better yet, how to minimize them.

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What Is Zoom Fatigue?

Zoom fatigue is a form of physical and mental exhaustion that comes from frequently participating in video conference calls, whether on Zoom or other video conferencing platforms like Webex or Microsoft Teams.

The phenomenon has become more prevalent since the Covid-19 pandemic as remote and hybrid work continues to be adopted, and with it the need to frequently video conference since face-to-face meetings are less of an option.
 

Physical Effects of Zoom Fatigue

Zoom fatigue is when your eyes and sometimes your whole body feels very tired and exhausted from spending hours of time on a video conference call, said Marsha Sorenson, a neuro-developmental optometrist at the optometry services practice Vision Rehabilitation Associates.

Zoom fatigue, she added, is different from the fatigue one gets sitting at the computer, banging away on the keyboard and looking at the monitor. With video calls, your eyes and brain are processing a lot more movement compared to looking at text.

When you’re looking at a computer screen up close, the muscles that enable the crystalline lens in your eyes to focus are in constant use, which can create eye strain.

“Paying attention to the body language of another participant is taxing.”

Additionally, you can get tired from keeping your body within the camera frame when video conferencing versus standing or having the freedom to walk around in an in-person meeting.

 

Physiological Effects of Zoom Fatigue

On the physiological front, the brain needs to spend more time filling in the gaps of what the speaker wants to convey over Zoom since it doesn’t have the benefit of reading body language for additional cues. Because a lot of non-verbal communication is lost when we can only see a Zoom participant’s head and shoulders, you have to exert more effort to pay attention to whatever body language you can read.

“Paying attention to the body language of another participant is taxing,” Géraldine Fauville, assistant professor at the Department of Education, Communication and Learning at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, told Built In.

 

Zoom Fatigue Impact by Gender

Women, meanwhile, are more likely to experience higher Zoom fatigue than men, according to a 2021 study of 10,591 people. It turns out 14 percent of women reported feeling very to extremely fatigued, compared to 5.5 percent for men, said Fauville, co-author of the study. 

The increased fatigue level for women stems, in part, from taking shorter breaks and having longer meetings than men, even though the study showed the number of video meetings was the same for both groups. Women are also more affected by the anxiety of seeing their image during video calls, as well as knowing everybody can view them, the study found.

“They feel more physically confined by the restricted freedom of movement, and they also feel more keenly that everybody is staring at them,” Fauville said.

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What Are the Symptoms of Zoom Fatigue?

Zoom fatigue symptoms range from physical ailments such as eye strain and headaches to psychological issues like anxiety.

Zoom Fatigue Symptoms 

  • Eye strain
  • Headaches
  • Body aches
  • Mirror anxiety
  • Disengagement

 

Eye Strain

Constantly staring at a backlit computer screen with very little blinking while participating in a video conference call can lead to eye strain, said Sandy Feldman, a medical director with lasik treatment provider Clearview Eye and Laser Medical Center.

Close proximity to the computer screen can also lead to digital eye strain created by staring at digital screens for a prolonged period of time. As your eyes try to converge their focus to create a single image when looking at your computer screen, you can create an extra burden on your eyes or tire them if they don’t work efficiently in unison, Sorenson said.

“Spending eight to 10 hours a day on your computer doing Zoom calls is like having your eyes run a marathon, so to speak,” Sorenson said, adding, human beings were not designed to conduct so much near work on their computers.

 

Headaches

Staring closely at a computer screen can also lead to other physical symptoms.

“Because you’re looking at an object close up for an extended period of time, you may be able to feel the strain in your eyes and also a little bit of a headache,” Feldman said.

Color contrasts when watching someone on video can also lead to eye strain, Sorenson said. And that, in turn, could cause a headache.

 

Body Aches

Video calls are often conducted with the parties sitting in front of their computer with their cameras on. To stay within the camera’s range, people often limit their movement, rather than having the freedom to move about or stretch as they would in an in-person meeting. As a result, that lack of movement can create body aches, Sorenson said.

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Mirror Anxiety

Mirror anxiety refers to the unease of seeing your video image displayed on your computer screen during a video conference call. 

Introverts, in particular, experience a higher level of mirror anxiety than extroverts. This anxiety is more cognitively demanding to process and manage for introverts than extroverts, which in turn leads to Zoom fatigue, said Fauville.

 

Disengagement

Being engaged in a video conference call can be invigorating and energizing. If you find the discussion boring, however, you may become disengaged, which in turn can lead to Zoom fatigue as you struggle to remain alert and engaged, said Anita Williams Woolley, associate dean of research and professor of organizational behavior and theory at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business.

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How to Minimize Zoom Fatigue

While signs of Zoom fatigue can range, so too can the steps you take to minimize its impact.

Ways to Minimize Zoom Fatigue

  • Use the 20-20-20 rule
  • Swap your computer monitor for a TV monitor
  • Reduce blue light exposure
  • Get good workspace lighting
  • Hide your self view 
  • Hold fewer and shorter video meetings

 

Use the 20-20-20 Rule

One of the most basic steps you can take is the 20-20-20 rule, Sorenson said. Under this rule, every 20 minutes you sit in front of a computer screen, you look across a room or out a window that’s 20 feet away for 20 seconds.

“It gives your eyes a chance to relax by focusing farther away and kind of recalibrates them,” she said.

 

Swap Your Computer Monitor for a TV Monitor

If you are a remote worker and can use your TV monitor as a computer monitor for video conferencing calls, then consider giving it a go, while working 20 feet away from the TV, Feldman said. This will help reduce close computer work, she added.

 

Reduce Blue Light Exposure

Computer and other digital device screens emit blue light, which is processed by the photoreceptors in the back of our eyes and keeps us alert and can create eye fatigue, Feldman said.

There are glasses you can wear to cut the blue light and help reduce eye strain. Some computers have screen settings that can mimic the movement of outdoor light and emit yellow light instead.

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Get Good Workspace Lighting

Some people like to work on their computers and video conference from a dimly lit room. But the contrast coming from your backlight computer screen and darkly lit room can make your Zoom fatigue eye strain even worse, said Sorenson.

Instead of working in the dark, secure a proper amount of light to lessen the burden on your eyes.

 

Hide Your Self View 

Leave your camera on for others to see but hide your video image from yourself, Fauville told Built In.

“Seeing yourself during a video conference is the equivalent in the real world of somebody following you around with a mirror constantly. There’s a lot of research showing that there are negative emotional consequences of seeing yourself in a mirror. So, get rid of the virtual mirror,” she said.

 

Hold Fewer and Shorter Video Meetings

Get out of the habit of holding a meeting anytime you want to start a new project. Ask yourself if other actions can be taken instead, like having a shared document that everyone on the project can contribute to, Woolley said. Steps should be taken to limit the number of Zoom meetings, as well as the number of participants to only those who are critical to the project, she added.

Consider also holding shorter meetings and taking longer breaks between video meetings, Fauville said.

“We are aware that it’s not always up to the individual to decide their video conference schedule. Instead, managers should rethink their video conference policies and culture,” Fauville said.

 

Frequently Asked Questions

Zoom fatigue is an occurrence of physical and mental exhaustion due to frequent participation in video conferencing calls. 

Zoom fatigue can present itself through symptoms like eye strain, headaches or increased anxiety and disengagement during video calls. This fatigue can also be caused by any form of video conferencing software, including Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams and more.

To avoid Zoom fatigue, it may be helpful to:

  • Take breaks from using a screen throughout the day
  • Reduce blue light exposure
  • Implement appropriate workspace lighting
  • Hide your self view during video calls
  • Hold fewer and shorter virtual meetings

When using Zoom or any video conferencing technology, this involves having to process movement through a screen and often keeping your body still and in view of the camera, which can overall lead to fatigue.

Looking at a screen for prolonged periods of time may cause eye strain and headaches, and having to keep your body in a fixed position over virtual meetings may cause body aches.

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