How this year of working on Zoom has affected your brain

How this year of working on Zoom has affected your brain

We have passed a year since the initial Covid-19 shutdowns. That means a year of working from home, business casual from the waist up, and staring at your colleagues’ faces in a 13-inch grid.

Zoom has become a huge part of today’s work flow, with a 470% increase in customers having more than 10 employees from this time last year, the company says.
But how has the past year of virtual conference calls affected your brain? A Stanford analysis explains with a breakdown of the four causes of “zoom fatigue.”

‘Fight or flight’ survival

You don’t expect primordial instincts to kick in during your 9 a.m. meeting. But that’s exactly what happens, says Jeremy Bailenson, Stanford communications professor.

That grid of faces simulates an encounter where you’re faced with a confrontation in a small space.

In similar situations, like an elevator, people usually keep their eyes to the ground and avoid close confrontation. But a Zoom call “smothers everyone with gaze,” so thought they are just staring at a camera, it simulates a confrontation and triggers your fight-or-flight instincts.

Non-verbal internet cues

We are not used to socializing in this environment and picking up non-verbal cues virtually.

Plus, we feel so distant from others on the call that we overcompensate, and “people speak 15% louder when interacting on video” compared to in-person interactions, according to the study.

Constant mirror and self-evaluation

Imagine if you had an assistant following you with a mirror so you could constantly see your own face.

It’s not narcissism; it’s what happens on every Zoom call. And if you find yourself staring at that one little box that contains your own face, you’re not the only one.

The constant self-evaluation can make you more stressed, and science says the effects are worse on women. Bailenson mentions a separate study that concludes that long periods of self-focusing can “prime women to experience depression.”

Stuck in the box

Zoom fatigue traps us in a box. This can limit our mental ability.

We stay still so we don’t leave the frame, and this causes our minds to act differently than when we’re able to move around.

In fact, “people who are walking, even when it is indoors, come up with more creative ideas than people who are sitting.” So video conferences literally stop us from thinking outside of the box.

So what do I do now?

Bailenson doesn’t see Zoom disappearing any time soon. But we’re not hopelessly sentenced to its fatigue.

The most helpful change you can make when video conferencing: Collapse that self-image box so it’s out of view. Bailenson says “it will be like a weight taken off your shoulders.”

Use an external web cam, or opt for more phone call meetings — so you can get up and think out of that Zoom box.

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