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Why You’re Exhausted After Video Calls — and Exactly What to Do About It

Four strategies to help you battle digital fatigue.

Girts Ragelis / Shutterstock
Girts Ragelis / Shutterstock

Throughout the last year, you’ve probably grappled with “tech neck,” hit the “pandemic wall,” and now, you might be battling digital fatigue. Though video conferencing software has made it possible for many of us to work from home during the pandemic, it’s also come with its fair share of hurdles we never faced in the office. If you’ve been feeling especially exhausted after a day of video calls, it’s important to note that the way you feel is perfectly normal. In fact, it can be explained by science. Researchers at Stanford have identified reasons why video calls wear humans out, but lucky for us, they also identified strategies to help us recharge our mental batteries on- and off-camera. Here a few to consider: 

Opt for a smaller window

Video calls have a special way of invading our personal space. In fact, the size at which your co-workers’ faces appear on a video call “simulates a personal space that you normally experience when you’re with somebody intimately,” Jeremy Bailenson, the founding director of the Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab and author of the recent Stanford study, tells Stanford News. And on top of blowing up the size of your co-workers’ faces, video conferencing platforms push us to make longer and more frequent eye contact, which can be stressful.

Any easy-enough solution, according to Bailenson, is to ditch full-screen mode and reduce the size of your window, resulting in smaller face sizes and more personal space. You can also use an external keyboard, which will provide a little more distance between you and your monitor. 

Hide your face

We’re not shaming you: It turns out that seeing yourself on camera for so long — even if it’s in a small window in the corner of your screen — is unnatural, and can be unnerving too. “In the real world, if somebody was following you around with a mirror constantly — so that while you were talking to people, making decisions, giving feedback, getting feedback — you were seeing yourself in a mirror, that would just be crazy,” Bailenson says. Do yourself a favor and seek out the “hide self-view” button in Zoom, if that’s the software you use. That way, you’ll be able to focus on your co-workers and the conversation, rather than zeroing in on your reflection. 

Combine your meetings with movement 

An unspoken luxury of in-person meetings is our ability to move freely. On video calls, you likely sit in the same spot, and don’t have much space to pace, doodle, or change up your position in your seat. “There’s growing research now that says when people are moving, they’re performing better cognitively,” Bailenson says. With that in mind, Bailenson recommends bringing in that external keyboard once again, and positioning your camera a bit farther back so you have more space to move about.

Take camera-free breaks 

Video calls are particularly tiring because they make it more difficult to interpret non-verbal communication. For example, “If you want to show someone that you are agreeing with them, you have to do an exaggerated nod or put your thumbs up. That adds cognitive load as you’re using mental calories in order to communicate,” Bailenson explains. Lessen the cognitive load by turning your camera off a few times each day. Maybe you choose a meeting where you simply need to listen, or you go cam-free for the last 10 minutes of each call. To make the most of that break, Bailenson recommends turning your back to your screen. You could also try adding some conscious breathing to that moment, and before long, you’ll be feeling less fatigued.

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