Life

Have you got Zoom fatigue? Why you’re finding video calls so exhausting

Posted by
Lauren Geall
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A woman on Facetime feeling tired

Are you finding the world of virtual socialising incredibly… exhausting? Here’s why video calling is making you feel wiped out.

The coronavirus lockdown may have put an end to face-to-face socialising for the time being, but that doesn’t mean we’ve had to wave goodbye to our social lives entirely.

Thanks to the wonderful world of video calling, virtual drinks are now the way of the world. Forget the days when you spent £8.50 on a gin and tonic to spend an evening with your friends at the pub – now, socialising is as easy as grabbing your beverage of choice and jumping on Zoom with the girls.

In the era of social distancing, it’s more important than ever that we stay connected, and video call apps such as Zoom and Houseparty are allowing us to reach out to friends and family members for support during this difficult time. There’s only one small problem with all of this: video calling is incredibly exhausting.

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I’m not the only one who feels this – among my friends, family members and colleagues, most people have found themselves feeling drained after even 30 minutes spent on a call. While pre-coronavirus I could quite easily spend an hour in the pub without feeling tired, 45 minutes on a video call will leave me feeling exhausted. 

I’m enjoying these calls – in fact, I’m speaking to friends I might not have reached out to before – but afterwards, I just feel completely devoid of energy. 

“It kind of comes into this idea of impression management,” Linda Kaye, a cyberpsychology researcher, suggests. “Obviously video calls are about as similar to face-to-face interactions as we have available, so in many ways you would kind of expect that the demands on us would be equivalent. But it is interesting because anecdotally a number of people have said this, and I’ve experienced this myself – that it does feel exhausting.”

“One thing that does occur to me that might explain those feelings of exhaustion is that often you can see yourself during video calls. That may put an additional level of demand on you and make you more self-conscious or aware of how you’re looking and how you’re presenting yourself. With face-to-face conversations you never really have that.”

Charlotte Armitage, a media and business psychologist at YAFTA, agrees that being able to see ourselves – and spending so much time monitoring and observing our behaviours – is likely why we’re feeling so drained.

“The additional psychological processing involved in attending to one’s own behaviour and actions, as mirrored by the online platform, can be draining for a whole number of reasons,” she explains. “At the very least, it adds an additional level of stimuli that you wouldn’t have had in a face to face meeting.

She continues: “When our behaviour is mirrored, whether that be by another person or through seeing ourselves online, it draws our attention to certain traits or mannerisms that we might not have been previously aware of. Watching yourself on Zoom, when you aren’t used to it, is similar to looking at a new person, but because you’re seeing parts of your own behaviour which you hadn’t ever noticed before, it can be confusing. 

“It is quite an unusual concept for you to see how you appear to others during normal everyday conversation.”

A woman on video call
Finding video calls incredibly tiring? It's probably because you're staring at yourself...

Armitage also notes that our attention spans are smaller when we’re using technology vs in the real world, meaning it feels particularly tiring to stay attentive for the duration of a meeting or chat with friends.

Finally, Kaye hypothesises, the sheer volume of online calls we’re handling at the moment may make them all feel rather exhausting, especially when we struggle to find an excuse to bow out of those calls we’d rather not take. 

“Another reason why we might be feeling more exhausted is the volume of chats we’re having every day,” Kaye explains. “This is something I’ve definitely experienced – normally if I’m having meetings I’m having to move from one place to another so there’s ultimately fewer of them in one day. I suppose now because it’s more efficient it’s easier to schedule in lots of meetings – so there’s a volume issue.”

All in all, it seems, spending time on video call can be particularly draining – and it’s completely normal to feel wiped out after 30 minutes chatting with our friends. 

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It’s also important to remember that many of us are feeling exhausted at the moment thanks to the heightened levels of stress and anxiety we’re currently dealing with – so it’s understandable that we might find “simple” tasks like chatting to a friend more taxing than we usually would.

At the end of the day, it’s all about finding out what works for you. Staying connected to our friends and family is important when we’re physically separated, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t feel free to say no to calls and take some time to recuperate at the end of the day.

These are circumstances unlike any of us have ever experienced, so whatever you’re feeling, that’s 100% OK.

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Lauren Geall

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