How students are fighting Zoom fatigue

by John Barnes

Zoom. Google Meet. Microsoft Teams. We used to work in offices or go to school for classes. Now many of us are working all day in little “Zoom boxes” where the line between work and rest gets blurrier everyday, along with our eyesight.

Experts say many who work remotely are experiencing the same side effect of quarantine: exhaustion borne from endless video meetings, known as Zoom fatigue. Students, attending hours of online class, five days a week, may experience the worst of it.

We’re all aware of the hypothetical solutions. More exercise! Avoid screens! Do something relaxing! However, all of these quick fixes are easier said than done. We think to ourselves: How can I exercise if I need to finish all my homework for today? How do I have fun when there’s a global pandemic going on?

In order to find out how we can become more energized throughout the day, we first need to understand how fatigue works — and why sitting in front of a computer, doing relatively little, is so exhausting. Luckily, scientists are actively studying the phenomenon.

In our brain, rewards can increase alertness, energy and motivation, which reduces fatigue. Even simple tasks, such as walking in the halls in between classes, can be rewarding for our brains and increase our energy. Our brains feel rewarded when we move or change environments or when we get social interaction. We may not realize it, but when we talk to someone in person, we are communicating through many non-verbal cues, such as our body posture and smile. On video calls, it’s more difficult to pick up on these cues, so we have to work harder in order to socialize, which results in us feeling more tired.

So is there anything we can do? Yes! Caring for our minds and bodies away from our screens can energize us, and that’s as important as making our digital interactions as rewarding as possible. Experts recommend:

  • If appropriate, try to make time during a video call to make small talk or share something that’s bothering you. Maybe that means showing off your adorable dog, or talking to your co-workers or classmates about something going on outside of work.
  • Take a break to do nothing or something non-work related, which can refresh you and make you more productive later.
  • Between calls, try to get off the computer, move around, walk outside and get some air.
  • Move to different locations for online calls, which can offer a change in pace or more stimulation.

In the video above, I explore the science of Zoom fatigue and challenge some fellow students to try out these tips.