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Zoom fatigue: Physicians recognize emerging health concern

Zoom fatigue: emerging health concern
Zoom fatigue: emerging health concern
Published: Mar. 18, 2021 at 10:12 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - What a year it’s been. In the pandemic, much has changed. Much has been removed, and much has been added.

Zoom, an emerging videoconferencing tool now viewed as a double-edged sword by some, has seen a huge influx as people work from home to keep COVID-19 from spreading through offices.

But if you’re tired or outright exhausted from work-related video calls, you’re not alone.

Stanford University has a name for — and peer-reviewed research about — the physical toll that hours of screen time have taken on thousands of Americans during this global health crisis. It’s called “Zoom fatigue.”

The university made it clear the purpose of their research wasn’t to vilify video-calling technology; rather, it wanted to highlight the psychological, physical, and emotional impact of the hours of virtual meetings that have skyrocketed recently.

Stanford found four main contributors to the fatigue:

1. Excessive amounts of close-up eye contact is highly intense.

Dr. Rebecca Wysoske, director of telehealth for the UNMC Department of Psychiatry, echoed concerns about the strain constant screen time can put on the eyes.

“People tend to not blink when they’re staring at computer screens. They get dry, tired eyes,” Dr. Wysoske said.

In a normal meeting, attendees are looking at various colors or objects. Stanford Professor Jeremy Bailenson recommended taking Zoom out of the full-screen option and reducing the size of the Zoom window relative to the monitor.

2. Seeing yourself during video chats constantly in real-time is fatiguing.

“You’re not necessarily looking at the person you’re talking to, especially if there’s a whole row of them on the screen. And so, you really feel disconnected,” Wysoske said.

Instead, you’re staring into a camera for long periods of time. Also, because video-calling platforms have a tiny box showing your image, you’re spending hours seeing your own reflection while making decisions or giving feedback.

Stanford researchers said that’s unnatural.

“In the real world, if somebody was following you around with a mirror constantly — so that while you were talking to people, you were seeing yourself in a mirror — that would just be crazy. No one would ever consider that,” Professor Bailenson said.

Creating a healthy balance of personal and work screen time is a challenging balancing for Taylor Ford, a mom and full-time entrepreneur.

Ford is CEO and owner of IT’s 4 ME, an information technology consulting company. Professionally, Ford was already embedded in the virtual world, but amid the pandemic, more of her clients opted for virtual meetings.

Add that on top of adapting to complete online learning for her son, and she said the zoom fatigue set in fast. Everywhere she turned, there was a screen.

“Now, all of my days are consumed with being on my tablet, my phone, or his iPad trying to set him up,” said Ford.

Stanford recommended that once users see their face is framed properly in the video, they should use the “hide self-view” button, accessed by right-clicking their own photo.

3. Excessive video chatting reduces mobility

UNMC has already seen that play out.

“People complain of back pain, hip problems,” Wysoske said.

Ford said she takes her health seriously and learned early on how much she would be sacrificing if she continued scheduling virtual meetings back-to-back; so she stopped, and began to integrate meditation, exercises, or prayer in one of the hour breaks she scheduled throughout her day.

Dr. Wysoske said people who may have to use video-calling more often could consider standing desks which allow them to move around and increase blood-flow through their bodies.

She also suggested virtual meetings outside when weather permits. Fresh air and a change of scenery can break up the monotony of in-door online meetings.

4. The cognitive load is much higher in video chats.

Stanford researchers said during regular face-to-face interaction, nonverbal communication is natural; but online, it’s harder to send and receive signals than in person.

“There’s a lot to be said for just running into people in the hallway and saying hello. You don’t get to do any of that when you’re just going from meeting to meeting,” Dr. Wysoske said.

She recommended a practice used by optometrists called the 20/20/20 rule, which encourages people to look 20 feet away from their screen, for 20 seconds, every 20 minutes.

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