Zoom Fatigue Is Real. Here's How to Cope

Woman video conferencing.

Alistair Berg / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • The phenomenon "Zoom fatigue" refers to the tiredness many express while using Zoom and other videoconferencing technologies since the beginning of the pandemic.
  • A cognitive psychologist offers four specific reasons as to why Zoom may zap energy, and what users can do to feel more energized.
  • Rather than indict Zoom, this framework hopes to motivate further research and improve videoconferencing technologies for a future that is likely to include them more than ever.

During the pandemic, video calls have become a mainstay. But after a year of video meetings and get-togethers, many are experiencing "Zoom fatigue," or increased levels of tiredness, anxiety, or worry resulting from overuse of the platform.

Seeing a need to improve the new virtual landscape, a cognitive psychologist offers a concrete framework as to why so many people experience Zoom fatigue, and how you can help yourself.

According to Jeremy Bailenson, PhD, cognitive psychologist, researcher, and framework author at Stanford University, you can attribute this fatigue to four major factors:

  • Eye gaze at close distance
  • Increased cognitive load
  • Constantly looking at yourself
  • Reduced mobility

Only a month after the pandemic hit the U.S., many began speculating as to why this type of tiredness occurs. But Bailenson gets specific, using academic theory and research, to point out video conferencing design flaws, as well as identify research and development areas for social scientists and technology developers.

As Bailenson and colleagues continue identifying and addressing issues associated with video conferencing, he suggests ways that we can help ourselves deal in the meantime. The paper was published in late February in the journal Technology, Mind, and Behavior.

What This Means for You

If you're experiencing Zoom fatigue, try decreasing the window size and moving it closer to the camera, and hiding self-view. You should also try getting up, moving around, and stretching every 15 minutes, or talking to coworkers and friends about limiting video calls and using audio calls interchangeably.

Four Reasons Behind Zoom Fatigue

Bailenson summarizes four major reasons why endless Zoom calls zap our energy: eye gaze distance, increased cognitive load, endless reminders of how you look, and reduced mobility.

Eye Gaze Distance

Your home videoconferencing set-up, Bailenson says, might be making it seem like the person on the screen is just too close. If the person's head is taking up most of the screen, and you are close to the screen as well, then the distance between you and the person's face could be well under 60 centimeters, which is often reserved only for intimate contact. "In one-on-one meetings conducted over Zoom, coworkers and friends are maintaining an interpersonal distance reserved for loved ones," Bailenson writes.

In addition to intimate face-to-face distance, which is draining especially when we're not intimate with the person, another tiring aspect is always being faced with head-on eye contact. Think of elevators, Bailenson writes: "Riders can solve this by looking down."

During in-person meetings, Bailenson writes, not everybody is forced to stare at the same thing for the entire time; there are shifting speakers, someone presents something on the screen, or they look around the room. "But with Zoom, all people get the front-on views of all other people nonstop," he writes. "This is similar to being in a crowded subway car while being forced to stare at the person you are standing very close to."

It's important to note here, Bailenson says, that in some cultures, it is more common to stand close to others, so the eye distance might not be an issue for everybody. To key in on different ways that Zoom fatigue could be affecting different demographics, Bailenson and colleagues are currently running a large study online through Stanford University.

"There is reason to predict Zoom fatigue is going to be worse for women than men based on past research," Bailenson tells Verywell. Gender and cultural differences, he says, "we hope to be able to better understand through the aforementioned study."

Increased Cognitive Load

Cognitive load has to do with how much information our working memory can process at a time. For example, if you're trying to focus on a conversation but can't because you're thinking of something else, then the increased cognitive load inhibited your ability to focus at that moment.

Bailenson tells us to think of everything that's going on during a Zoom call as opposed to an in-person conversation. There are various technical aspects to manage, delayed response due to connection problems, as well as thinking about how you're presenting yourself on the camera.

There's also the finding that people tend to speak 15% louder on video calls, and have to think about looking at the screen and/or the camera if they want to create the illusion of eye contact. "The 'classic' eye contact problem on video, is that one can look at the camera, or at other faces, but not both at the same time, so eye-gaze is never lined up," Bailenson says. 

Decades of hardware research still haven't solved that problem. "This constant monitoring of behavior adds up," he writes.

Constantly Looking at Yourself

"Imagine in the physical workplace, for the entirety of an eight-hour workday, an assistant followed you around with a handheld mirror," Bailenson writes. This would be a ridiculous situation, he adds but is similar to what is occurring on Zoom calls all day.

While there remains the option to hide the self-view window, your face still pops up when booting up the application. Although more research is needed on the effects of these specific, repeated instances of seeing oneself, Bailenson writes, "it is likely that a constant 'mirror' on Zoom causes self-evaluation and negative affect."

Reduced Mobility

In contrast to in-person meetings and phone calls, Bailenson says, being on a Zoom call comes with the expectation that you'll stay in place.

In meetings, people "pace, stand up, and stretch, doodle on a notepad, get up to use a chalkboard, even walk over to the water cooler to refill their glass," he writes. On non-video phone calls, he adds, there is the "wonderful illusion" that the person is dedicating all their mental and physical energy on the call, when in reality, they could be doing any number of things.

Limited movement, due to the technology and expectations related to videoconferencing, could contribute to fatigue, especially considering evidence that people perform and learn better when they move.

DIY Solutions for Zoom Fatigue

We shouldn't blame Zoom or any videoconferencing application, Bailenson writes. However, these issues can inspire technological solutions.

While researchers and programmers work to alleviate Zoom Fatigue, Bailenson suggests making various adjustments, especially if you find yourself on Zoom all day.

In regards to the eye gaze problem, for instance, Bailenson says that "the best solution I have come up with, is to make the Zoom window very small—2 inches by 2 inches—and then placing it at the top/center of the screen just beneath the camera." That way, the eyes are more pointed towards the camera while he's still looking at videoconference members.

To reduce cognitive load in general, he adds, "the simplest solution here is to encourage more meetings that are audio-only, reserving video calls for only when they are absolutely necessary." Team members can work together about deciding what will call for video. And when one does have to hop on a video call, "clicking 'hide self-view' is a great way to reduce fatigue," he says.

Finally, if there's no way to get around back-to-back Zoom calls all day, Bailenson recommends trying to move when you can. "I have been getting up, walking out of the camera frame, and stretching, about every 15 minutes," he says. "I still listen and pay attention."

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

2 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Bailenson J. Nonverbal overload: A theoretical argument for the causes of Zoom fatigueTechnology, Mind, and Behavior. 2021;2(1). doi:10.1037/tmb0000030

  2. Sweller J. Cognitive load during problem solving: Effects on learningCogn Sci. 1988;12(2):257-285. doi:10.1207/s15516709cog1202_4

By Sarah Simon
Sarah Simon is a bilingual multimedia journalist with a degree in psychology. She has previously written for publications including The Daily Beast and Rantt Media.