Zoomed Out? How to Create Balance in the Age of Screens
I'm perfecting my yoga these days with a weekly class on Zoom. My professor husband spends hours teaching classes and attending department meetings in front of a screen. And for many people during the Covid-19 crisis, online video chatting has been a lifeline--a way to connect with family and friends.
If there's one common denominator in the country right now, it's our new dependence on screens. According to Clockwise, the creator of an online calendar assistant, employees are spending 29 percent more time in online group meetings and 24 percent more time in one-on-one meetings than before the lockdown. And whether you love it or hate it, it's likely that this trend is not going to go away even after schools and gyms open up and we can travel to see family again.
I personally love it that my favorite yoga teacher now visits me in my living room, even if she's only on the screen. One of my friends who attended her class reunion online thought it was the best one yet, since every person had a chance to share how they were doing. And one mom wrote that she was thrilled to meet her friends for a Zoom dinner party without having to dress up or hire a babysitter. These are new and creative uses of technology that have changed our lives for the better.
But for other people who spend all day in online meetings or virtual classrooms every day, there's a curious new syndrome developing called Zoom Fatigue. It turns out that interacting with others on a screen for hours can wear you out.*
Scientists have identified a few reasons for Zoom Fatigue, such as the constant technology glitches. Freezing screens, that 1.2-second lag between people's lips moving on the screen and hearing their voices, the fumbling with the mute button, the echoes and feedbacks, the unnatural pauses--each create anxiety that something is going wrong, and that tires out the mind and body.
It also requires more focus to conduct a video call, says Gianpiero Petriglieri, a researcher who explores sustainable learning in the workplace. Virtual conversations mimic real ones, but they're not the same. When conversing with others on screens our minds have to work much harder to read facial cues, detect subtle changes in the tone and pitch of the voice, and observe body language (impossible to do when there's only a talking head visible).
Then there's the cognitive dissonance when we're talking to a screen. "Our minds are together when our bodies feel we're not," explained Petriglieri in an interview with the BBC. "That dissonance, which causes people to have conflicting feelings, is exhausting. You can't relax into the conversation naturally."
Whether we love it or hate it, we need to find ways to stay fresh and alert while conducting our lives on screens. Here are five hacks to help you take advantage of the plus side of computer connectivity without the fatigue.
Turn off the self-view window so you're not distracted by your own image throughout the call.
Get your lighting and look set before the meeting, take one last look in at your self-view window, then go to your settings and turn it off. Why? Most people can't help but focus on their own image during a video call, and that is not only distracting but can be distressing when you're hyper-critical about the way your mouth moves or your eyes shift. For me it's similar to getting seated in a restaurant opposite a mirror--I can't conduct a decent conversation when confronted with my own mirror image, so I always ask to be seated at a different chair. Bottom line: focusing on two frames at once divides your mind and attention, creating mental strain.
Take a virtual water-cooler break.
When you're at the office, you naturally get up between meetings to get a drink of coffee or gather at the water cooler. You can achieve the same effect by scheduling a ten-minute break between calls or calling for a break half-way through a two-hour session. Take a quick walk around your home or apartment, get up for a drink of water, do a few stretches or salutes to the sun, or gaze out your window at the view to relax your eyes.
Make your Zoom spot comfortable and switch it up.
If you had to conduct back-to-back meetings in the same meeting room at your office, you'd soon ask for a change of scenery. You can achieve the same effect at home by switching to the couch for one meeting, sitting in your office chair at another. Make sure your background looks professional and uncluttered, and that you have a comfy chair that supports your back.
You can also switch to phone or audio to give yourself a break from staring at the screen. Not every call has to be a video call (after all, we used to conduct many one-on-one meetings on the phone). Giving your eyes a rest, and the choice to get out of the chair and stand up and stretch for a speaker-phone call can provide needed variety. Sitting all day can create a variety of health risks, so create ways to stand, stretch, and move about during the day to lower the risk of metabolic syndrome and pump oxygen to your brain.
Refresh your eyes.
Staring at the screen all day is hard on the eyes, which is why some people end up with bleary eyes and head pressure at the end of the day. If you're stuck on a long call, take a mini-break by turning off your video and shifting your eyes to look through a window or anywhere away from the screen. Blink to replenish cleansing fluid to dry eyes. After the call, dampen a cotton ball with pure Organic Rose Water and place it over your closed eyes. Lean back and relax for ten minutes while the naturally cooling, calming essential rose water refreshes your tired eyes. End your mini-spa treatment with palming: place your palms lightly over your eyes and relax into the moment to soothe eye fatigue and release stress. Find instructions for palming and other eye exercises here.
Ease Performance Stress and Screen Strain.
Video calls can make you feel like you're perpetually on, with all eyes on you even when you're not the speaker. Take Worry Free to overcome anxious feelings, EMF exposure, or computer overstimulation. This remarkable herbal compound is my personal go-to for dissolving mental strain, as it not only calms my mind but emotions too--not to mention helping me sleep better. Powerful anti-stress herbs such as ashwagandha and jatamansi provide a natural solution to mental tension and worry--including the computer kind.
Give your brain a boost. If you're feeling the need to sharpen your memory to stay on top of the technology, Organic Brahmi (Bacopa) is a revered and ancient Ayurvedic brain tonic and neuro adaptogen. It boosts the brain and nervous system's resistance to stress, supports the intellect, and rejuvenates memory function.
*The syndrome has been named after the popular video-conferencing software Zoom, but this discussion is about any video conferencing experience and is not meant to be an endorsement of any one program
Linda Egenes writes about green and healthy living and is the author of six books, including Super Healthy Kids: A Parent's Guide to Maharishi Ayurveda, co-authored with Kumuda Reddy, M.D.