6 Strategies to Cope with ‘Mirror Anxiety’ and Zoom Fatigue

Zoom Fatigue

Are your days filled with Zoom meetings for work, video chats with family and friends, web appointments with doctors, online conferences with your kids’ teachers, and more? All that video conferencing is leaving people stressed, anxious, depressed, and exhausted. This new phenomenon has become so prevalent, it’s earned the nickname “Zoom fatigue,” and you’re probably one of the millions of Americans suffering from it.

5 REASONS WHY YOUR BRAIN HATES ZOOM

In a 2021 study involving 10,591 people, researchers from Sweden and Stanford University confirmed what we’ve all felt—video conferencing is draining. The team of scientists reveals that Zoom fatigue is more pronounced in women than men, and they point to 5 specific brain-related reasons why video calls are so exhausting.

1. Mirror anxiety

Anyone who has used Zoom has come face-to-face (or rather, face-to-screen) with their own image—either in one of those little boxes or full-screen—and it can cause something referred to as “mirror anxiety.” Scientific evidence shows that self-focused attention can heighten vulnerability to negative affect and has been associated with increased anxiety and depression.

2. Feeling physically trapped

When you’re in an in-person meeting, you’re free to move about—lean in, stand up, stretch, and more. On Zoom, however, you’re basically locked into one position, so your head and shoulders fit within the eye of your webcam. Physical restriction diminishes creative thinking and cognitive performance. For some people, this may feel like a virtual form of claustrophobia.

3. Hyper gaze

In the 2021 study, the researchers suggest that hyper gaze—having all those virtual eyeballs constantly staring at you—is anxiety-provoking. During in-person meetings, people may glance at you from time to time, but in video conferencing the direct eye gaze never stops. And when it’s a one-on-one meeting, the person’s head can take up the whole screen as if they’re standing less than 2 feet away. In real life, getting up close like this might seem confrontational or too intimate. Either way, it’s a stress inducer.

4. Cognitive load of interpreting nonverbal cues

When all you’re seeing on screen are people’s heads and shoulders, you miss out on critical nonverbal cues that your brain typically processes. In a real-life meeting setting, you would notice people’s body language, such as emphasizing a point with hand gestures, crossing their arms, tapping their toes nervously, and so on. Without these clues, your brain has to work overtime to grasp the underlying intent and meaning of what is being said.

5. Cognitive load of producing nonverbal cues

On the flip side, you may feel the need to overemphasize your own nonverbal cues in response to others or while you’re speaking. You may consciously think about making exaggerated hand gestures so others can see them. This places a greater demand on brainpower.

As anyone who has been on Zoom knows, these aren’t the only reasons why video conferencing can be so exhausting. Add in tech glitches, having to deal with distracting background noise, and getting no feedback or delayed feedback while talking, and it’s easy to see why it’s so stressful.

6 WAYS TO REDUCE ZOOM STRESS AND ANXIETY

In the wake of the pandemic and the shift to remote working, it looks like Zoom and other video conferencing platforms are here to stay. Understanding the possibility of Zoom fatigue and making a few adjustments in your daily usage could be helpful for you.

1. Hide self-view.

If you have trouble with mirror anxiety, some video conferencing platforms offer an option to hide yourself, which allows others to see but prevents you from seeing yourself. If you’re really struggling with anxiety about video conferencing, it may be time to seek professional help.

2. Go wireless.

To minimize the size of your own face on the screen, use a wireless keyboard, which allows you to sit farther away from your webcam. This may help reduce self-consciousness.

3. Take mini-breaks.

Looking away from your computer screen for several seconds or briefly opening a document or your calendar to block all those faces for a brief moment can give your brain a short respite.

4. Get up…or down.

Consider a standing desk that you could move up or down during calls so you can have some ability to alternate from sitting to standing to alleviate feelings of being trapped.

5. Change your view.

If all those eyeballs staring back at you creeps you out, try “speaker view” instead of “gallery view.” By contrast, if seeing one person’s face full-screen in speaker view is alarming to you, switch to the gallery view. Or you may find that switching back and forth from speaker to gallery view may give your brain a break.

6. Create a routine.

To reduce the stress and anxiety associated with video conferencing, stretch or practice deep breathing before and after video conference calls. This can help calm your mind and body.

Feelings of stress and anxiety can’t wait. During these uncertain times, your mental well-being is more important than ever, and waiting until life gets back to “normal” is likely to make your symptoms worsen over time.

At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, remote clinical evaluations, and video therapy for adults, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.

6 Comments »

  1. This seems so useful. The nightmare of Zoom coming into a home space was amplified when a woman took her laptop into the bathroom not realizing everyone could see her. I would have

    Comment by Charlotte — May 3, 2021 @ 5:26 AM

  2. Your articles are always helpful to me in my practice. Thx Keep them coming.

    Comment by Mary C Dermody — May 3, 2021 @ 6:01 AM

  3. I’m so glad you shared this info as it helps me not feel so injured. I have a TBI and one long zoom meeting will wear me out for several days and often cause migraines too. I love the meeting and often turn off my video so I don’t feel ‘trapped’ as you put it – didn’t realize that’s what that was all about but makes sense now! Thank you.

    Comment by Laurie — May 3, 2021 @ 7:12 AM

  4. So helpful! My brain intuitively knew this! Thanks for validating in relevant language why my brain hates Zoom in psychiatry. With so many companies choosing to have their providers use Zoom (which may be beneficial for their bottom line) it would be so beneficial for everyone to read this important post. Thank you!

    Comment by coral — May 3, 2021 @ 11:26 AM

  5. My difficulty is when someone has a lit, ceiling fan running. The light blinking just drives me crazy. Plus, why do people sit in the strangest places. Please sit with your back to a wall. Last meeting, a husband in white underpants walked twice behind his wife who was speaking on Zoom. She was in the kitchen, it was nighttime, and he was hungry going to the fridge and back. He was totally oblivious of her on the computer. Ugh!

    Comment by Deb — May 3, 2021 @ 7:07 PM

  6. Great article. When I do a zoom session with a client, I basically sacrifice any body language for my sanity. I reduce the screen size and have a scenic picture to look at for over half the screen. I have found that I am less tired and have a better mental outlook at the end of the session.

    Comment by Philip Ernest — May 4, 2021 @ 7:37 PM

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