Our mission is to empower families to raise resilient, independent youth by focusing on mental health and emotional wellness.
Understanding & Easing Zoom Fatigue
Engaging with others all day long through a screen is leaving many people feeling exhausted. During a recent CATCH webinar, Maggie Schwalbach, MA, Founder & Owner of North Shore Executive Functioning , helped us understand the phenomenon of Zoom Fatigue and offered solutions to make it easier to manage.

Television Exposure & Zoom Fatigue

Drawing on a master’s degree in Media, Peace and Conflict Sudies from the United Nations University for Peace, Maggie offered the lens of cultivation analysis to examine our current collective experience. In the 1960s, Dr. George Gerbner developed cultivation theory after spending decades researching media consumption habits. He found that frequent television exposure leads viewers to become more fearful, mistrusting, and anxious. That same theory offers us insight into the appearance of Zoom Fatigue.
“Like a fish that may not know it’s wet, we are so saturated with media that we might not even recognize we’re in it,” Maggie told webinar participants, and then invited attendees to consider the following questions: What happens when we communicate through small boxes on a screen, day after day? What kind of a climate do we create when disconnected from live human interactions? What environment are we cultivating in a digital age?  What do I want to cultivate?
Cultivating Empathy

When Maggie polled webinar participants on their ability to connect empathetically in a virtual space, an overwhelming  83% said they’ve found it harder to recognize emotion  via Zoom. Why?

One reason is that human beings are hard-wired to be sensitive and in tune with other people’s facial expressions. It’s called mirroring, and it’s essential for empathy and connection. When we can’t mirror others, we feel unsettled. 

“There are these little frames, and we become overly reliant on words. At the same time, we are thrown off because we can’t really see the whole range of emotions. It’s digitalized. Add into this any kind of delay — like when the screen becomes pixelated — and all of a sudden our brains, which are prediction generators, become taxed. Like any machine that’s not working at its full capacity, which the brain is designed to do, it starts to become tired,“ Maggie explained. “It leaves us feeling icky to be on one virtual conversation after another.”  
Communication Feedback Loop

Citing a meta-analysis of turn-taking across languages and cultures, Maggie revealed how it's part of a shared cognitive infrastructure that follows certain protocol: one person speaks at a time, offers a short burst of information, and each contribution receives a response.

Though it's natural to share conversational space, this is much harder to accomplish virtually because the expected sequential feedback loop is often interrupted. Just think how many times someone says, “I didn’t catch that” or “Say that again; my screen just froze.” It’s exhausting and can quickly turn into “group monologuing."

When natural conversational rhythms disappear, it drains our energy and willpower to the point, Maggie confirmed, that some people are even skipping Zoom meetings altogether by looping videos of themselves paying attention!
Self-Conscious, Not Self-Aware

By now, most of us are aware of that glowing square that lights up around us when we start talking on Zoom. For many, it can be intimidating, and makes us feel self-conscious about how we look and how we are emoting. 
On the other hand, our children are digital natives who have grown up in the selfie era, a time that has led to countless articles that advise us how to look our best on Zoom calls. “This to me reads like a roll call for anxiety,” Maggie said, “It reads to me like a teenager’s worst nightmare - to constantly be aware not of the content of what I say or what’s coming out of who I am, but the superficial part on the outside."
Maggie's 5 Steps to Reduce Zoom Fatigue

1. Use the phone instead: Give your overstrained eyes a break. The absence of visual input has been shown to heighten sensitivity to what’s being said.

2. Build in play:  Don’t schedule back-to-back Zoom calls. Give your brain a chance to switch gears and relax. Step away from the screen to get a glass of water, do some deep breathing, play music, or take a short walk.

3. Take hand-written notes: Taking notes by hand has been shown to increase retention. It can be helpful for sustained attention to change focus between the screen and your notes.

4. Create your “work zone”: Make sure your home office feels different from your living area even if it’s in the same space. Change the lighting, open the curtains, roll up the carpet, light a candle. Never, ever try to work from your bed. It confuses the brain.

5.Find Grounding: Zoom encourages what psychologists call “continuous partial attention” and can leave us feeling scattered. Alternatively, grounding can help with anxiety, anger, and lack of focus.

Maggie shared this mindfulness exercise and suggested naming the items listed out loud as you move through each step.
“What do I want to cultivate?” 

Maggie closed her talk by inviting participants to get still and go inward to examine their own relationship with virtual communication. Shen then asked attendees to share the word that arose within them in response to the question, “What do I want to cultivate?” 

The top 3 responses were 1) CONNECTION, 2) RELATIONSHIPS, and 3) PEACE. We invite you to examine what  you  most want to cultivate. Maggie suggests our collective goals are important guideposts to consider as we continue moving through a mediated world.

Is Zoom here to stay?   

Yes, virtual communication is likely here to stay, Maggie confirmed. But she predicts our current experience of constant virtual connection may be the catalyst that inspires drastic change.  "It may be the very thing that prompts us to eat dinner without our phones and stops teens from texting one another when they are sitting together in the same room. We might get so tired of mediating our reality,” Maggie believes, “that the garden we can then cultivate will return us to authentic human connections."
Community Resources
Single Session Consultation

With the understanding that the COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented levels of change, stress, uncertainty, and loss, Family Service Center is offering Single Session Consultation. This free, solution-focused, one-hour program is designed to help individuals build a personalized action plan  utilizing their inner strengths to   take concrete small steps toward a meaningful goal  – from coping with stress or uncertainty to connecting more effectively with others. 

If you are interested, please contact FSC at 847-251-7350, and an FSC staff will contact you within 24 business hours to schedule your session.  Learn more.
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