Zoom Fatigue: Tips on Dealing With ‘Brain-Drain’ Side Effect

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May 28, 2020

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This post is available in: Spanish

Call it “Zoom fatigue” or “Zoom exhaustion” — a side effect of the seemingly endless virtual calls and meetings on your laptop or other digital devices. It wasn’t that long ago before the COVID-19 pandemic, that meetings took place in person, requiring full attention and social manners — but with few distractions.

Now, virtual meetings can create “brain drain” from trying to focus on multiple-person screens and attendants speaking over each other and distractions from others in your home, including well-meaning pets and kids.

“Video calls can overwhelm the psyche from several angles at once,” explains Michael McDermott, M.D., neurosurgeon and chief medical executive of Miami Neuroscience Institute, part of Baptist Health South Florida. “As humans, we heavily rely on non-verbal cues (hand gestures or head nodding) when we communicate to derive meaning. On a screen, we’re missing much of that information.”

The lack of personal contact forces your brain to work overtime to fill in the gaps by focusing on the few, unclear non-verbal cues we can see on a screen, or on words alone, to derive meaning.

“Your brain accounts for 20 percent of your total body energy consumption. So, it can be very taxing on someone when it’s on overdrive,” Dr. McDermott adds.

Despite the challenges of so many video conferencing sessions, it’s too early to tell if this new normal is actually causing negative neurological or psychological conditions — or at least there hasn’t been any substantial clinical studies as yet.

Videoconferencing was born out of necessity — and looks like it’s here to stay.  As people become more reliant on it, it is possible that more people experience ‘brain drain’ or other neuropsychological effects. It is also possible that people become more accustomed to and learn to adjust.

“It will require more research to determine if any chronic neurological conditions can be caused specifically by this video-conferencing phenomenon,” said Dr. McDermott.

It’s not all bad news — videoconferencing has allowed most people to stay connected during this difficult time. And there are steps you can take to prevent getting overwhelmed by the digital brain drain of Zoom meetings.

Here are tips to alleviate some of the affects:

  • Make more phone calls. This allows you to focus on one thing, the voice.
  • Turn off your camera if you can to ease the Zoom exhaustion.
  • Try walking and talking at the same time, if possible. This reduces stress and improves focus.
  • Take breaks during long videoconferencing sessions, and look away from the screen.

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