All of a sudden, people are merging their home life, work life, school life and social life and using video conferencing technology to replace in-person activities. Though video platforms like Zoom were hailed initially as saving the day, their overuse is taking its toll on its user’s mental health.
Prior to the pandemic, people relied on physical locations such as an office, school desk or coffee shop, to help their mind and body calibrate to what was expected of them. Autopilot was engaged and participants could chill out a bit knowing nothing was going to crash and burn. However, now because people are navigating new terrain using technology as their primary communication device, they are left trying to design new patterns of interacting that are foreign. Moving through life without the stress reduction help of autopilot takes its toll on overall mental and physical health.
Because 85% of communication is non-verbal, when one loses the ability to tune into the subtle changes in a person’s body language, the brain starts becoming taxed and confused, causing stress to build up. Keep in mind, most people are already highly emotional from Covid-19 based fears and are operating from a fight, flight or freeze point of view. Rational thinking is diminished as the neuroplastic brain tries to adjust to the demands of the crisis rerouting brain activity from the frontal lobes to the primitive brain.
A screen of zoomed-in faces focused on you 100% of the time while you are talking can be perceived as a threat by your brain. Humans aren’t used to interfacing solely to talking heads. They need the whole body to interpret the other’s reactions and to determine how they are being perceived and how they should adjust and respond. So much of this dance between individuals happens at an unconscious level. With video interaction, only a fraction of it occurs. Not only because you can’t see the other person’s cues, but also because you are also focusing on how you look on camera when you speak. You don’t see yourself talking when you are in person with someone so you aren’t distracted that way.
Video conferencing can feel like a performance where one is on stage expending all mind and body resources to get the message across to the other party in just the right way to achieve a goal. This can be exhausting when it is required hour after hour and day after day. In order for the nervous system to relax and feel at ease, one must feel it is ok to be imperfect, to let go of rigid objectives, and to positively surrender to the failings of the technology to mimic in-person interaction.
So how does one overcome Zoom fatigue?
The good news is that the brain is changeable. You can rewire your brain to neutralize perceived threats and train it to respond in more productive and predictable health-promoting ways. Here are 12 ways to explore.
- The most obvious is to reduce the amount of time you spend on camera. Though you might not be able to reduce the number of video conferencing work calls, it is completely ok to tell your loved ones you would like to bypass the Zoom call for a regular audio call.
- Better than a video conference call is to meet people outdoors at least 6 feet apart. Many counties don’t require masks for outdoor activities anymore so you can have a picnic and cherish nature and physical proximity at the same time.
- Set up video conferencing in your home so that the camera is focused on your entire body and not just your face and ask the other participants if they would consider doing the same. Invite people to sit near a window with natural light or make sure they are well-lit so you don’t see a dark shadowing figure which could be perceived as a threat.
- Start each call with a 5-minute meditation where people are invited to slow down their busy brain as well as deepen their breath and feel a solid connection with the ground. Mindrise has a series of 5-minute meditations that I wrote for stressed working professionals. You can download at www.mindrise.app.
- Every 15 minutes step away from the camera and take deep breaths during a brisk 1-minute walk or do 10 mindful jumping jacks. This gives you an opportunity to “stop the performance” and just be in the stillness of thought for a moment. It will also get the blood pumping, the endorphins moving and remove and stuckness from being rigid in front of a camera. A fluid body allows for stress to move through the mind and not settle there, just like storm clouds passing through a windy sky.
- Sip calming tea like chamomile during the call and bypass the caffeine which might stimulate the fear and anxiety response, even more, feeding the nervous system in negative ways.
- Surround your computer with fresh fragrant flowers and plants or fill an essential oil diffuser with lavender that can help hush the anxious mind. It is ok to stare away from the screen for a few seconds frequently to appreciate nature’s beauty. If your camera is focused on your whole body, nobody will notice your eyes moving away for moments at a time.
- Dedicate a portion of your home just for work activities. Fill this space with vibrant colors and life-affirming art that makes you feel tranquil and serene when you look at it. It is very important to avoid working in your bedroom where your brain should be trained to settle down, relax and drift off into dreamland, not brainstorm the next big company solution.
- Avoid checking the news within 2 hours of video conferencing calls. You don’t want all your fear cylinders fired up right before you find yourself “on stage”. In fact, set a schedule when you will check the news. Before your morning meditation and an hour before dinner is a good schedule to consider. Definitely avoid the news before you go to bed since good sleep is the cornerstone of a healthy lifestyle.
- Take all your personal calls outside so you can feel the sunshine on your skin and absorb the health enriching vitamin D. You can multi-task connecting with nature at the same time as talking to your loved ones. Try sitting directly on the ground and imagine a big tree root extending from your spine right down deep into the earth. In your mind’s eye, see yourself drinking up nourishment from Mother Earth into every cell in your body. The Earth’s frequency is 7.83 Hz which is the same frequency human’s resonate at in a restful state. Once this syncing is lost, people start to experience anxiety, fear and emotional upset, all of which lower the immune system’s ability to respond to pathogens.
- Build a schedule for work, play and social connection and stick with it. This includes how much video conferencing with the camera off and on you are willing to do in one given day. This will help the mind and body know what to expect each day and invite your brain’s autopilot back on so you can find more presence and joy.
- Meditate first thing in the morning to launch your day in a positive direction. End your day with meditation or sleep stories to help you drift off into a peaceful slumber. You can find hundreds of meditations, stories, relaxing music track, nature sounds, and entertaining features at www.mindrise.app. Mindfulness and meditation have been proven through research to reduce anxiety and rewire the brain for peace and calm.