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Mindset Monday: Is Zoom Wearing You Out?

By MJ Ryan

I’ve seen a lot of articles about Zoom fatigue recently. About how all our zooming—up to about 200 million meetings a day from 10 million pre-pandemic—is wearing out our brains. We Zoom for work, for connecting with friends over virtual dinners, for holding meditation retreats and classes and happy hours. Even funerals and weddings. Last week I “went” to an artist show and study tour via Zoom.

Because we are meeting virtually, it’s much harder to calculate nuance and feel empathy, say researchers. Since we are seeing one another from the shoulders up, it’s tougher to read nonverbal clues and body language, as well as minute facial expressions, but our brains at an unconscious level are still trying to decode all of that despite the limited cues because that’s what it’s designed to do. And what about the gallery view? In real life, we never see everyone all at once. As Julia Sklar wrote in a National Geographic on-line article April 24, 2020, “Multi-person screens magnify this exhausting problem. Gallery view—where all meeting participants appear Brady Bunch-style—challenge the brain’s central vision, forcing it to decode so many people at once that no one comes through meaningfully, not even the speaker.”

Then there’s the chat box where simultaneously people are carrying on group or private messaging while others are talking. It enhances what my friend Linda Stone coined as “continuous partial attention,” the phenomenon of not really being present to any one thing, but rather a constant scanning of multiple inputs that produces a sense of generally getting the gist but not exactly because our brains are jumping from stimuli to stimuli.

Continuous partial attention has been a draining phenomenon since the advent of texts and Slack and IMs and split screens. We actually can’t pay attention to more than one thing at once, but instead shift back and forth, which drains our prefrontal cortex, tiring us out more rapidly and diminishing the quality of our thinking. Add to that now the strain of video calls, and the problem can be exacerbated.

“For some people,” writes Sklar, “the prolonged split in attention creates a perplexing sense of being drained while having accomplished nothing. The brain becomes overwhelmed by unfamiliar excess stimuli while being hyper-focused on searching for non-verbal cues that it can’t find.”

Note her wording—for some people. In my informal survey of Ventures, not everyone finds Zoom tiring. It depends on how your brain processes information whether you can process a lot of visual and auditory stimuli without moving. For those who can, Zoom is a bonanza.

For the rest of us, here are some ideas that might help you adjust to this new reality. Consider these experiments. Try one and see if it helps. Then try another. The point is to find what works for you to be as present as possible:

  • Use speaker view rather than gallery so you can focus on one face at a time. You get more nonverbal cues that way as well because the picture is bigger.
  • If you have to use gallery, get rid of your own face (we don’t look at ourselves usually when speaking). Click on the 3 dots at the top of your picture and you can remove the visual of yourself.
  • Don’t look at the chat stream—be present to what is being said.
  • Does this have to be a video call? I personally like to walk around while I talk. So, I try to limit Zoom to group calls.
  • Try feeling into yourself before you jump onto the call. What is going on in your mind/body/spirit? The more we attune first to ourselves, the more we can then attune to others we are seeing. If this is something intriguing to you, check out this article on Virtual Relating. It’s a bit esoteric but I do believe he’s onto something. I know that attunement is a true and powerful ability of our mind/bodies.
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