Anyone who works from home has undoubtedly attended at least one Zoom meeting. This video conferencing app -- and others like it -- attempt to provide the same features of an in-person meeting, but with social distancing benefits. 

Zoom is certainly a helpful and necessary tool for the work-from-home crowd, but some people report feeling uncharacteristically drained and disconnected after their meetings. This "Zoom exhaustion" seems to be caused by the fact that we cannot use body language cues to communicate and connect as we can during in-person meetings.

How We Communicate in Person

Whenever we communicate with someone in person, we subconsciously pay attention to their body language and facial cues. Every eye movement, head tilt, frown, or smile provides us with additional information. Body language can be so subtle and subconscious that some people -- including law enforcement officers and professional poker players -- scrutinize it to detect lies.   

We also engage in "facial mimicry," where we mirror someone else's expressions or body language to demonstrate empathy or understanding. For example, if someone tells a joke and starts laughing, we naturally want to smile and chuckle to show that we understood the joke. If your boss walks in with tense shoulders and a frown on her face, you'll show a more serious facial expression, too, to acknowledge the gravity of the situation. 

How We Communicate Via Zoom

Video conferencing tools like Zoom allow us to see other people's body language, but it's still not quite the same as speaking face-to-face in person. For example, there may be a brief delay caused by slow Internet speeds. As author Kate Murphy points out, any lapse in what we see on the screen affects our facial mimicry, making communicating through Zoom feel disorienting. 

Some people stare down at their camera, whereas other people sit too close or too far away, which affects our ability to decipher their facial expressions or look them in the eye. According to Murphy, research shows that we cannot build a sense of trust with someone if we cannot make eye contact. In addition, when more people are added to a video call, their faces become smaller and smaller on our screen. We can no longer pick up on the subtle facial cues we could when sitting around a table in person. 

Finally, we tend to get distracted when seeing our own face on the screen. It all adds to a disconcerting -- and often tiring -- experience, especially for people who attend multiple Zoom meetings per week. 

You're Not Alone in Experiencing Zoom Exhaustion

Any long meeting can cause fatigue, but you're not alone if you feel especially drained after a Zoom meeting. Go easy on yourself -- Zoom exhaustion is not your fault. Our brains are not optimized for this type of communication. 

You can eliminate one distraction by hiding your own video on your screen. You will no longer be tempted to stare at yourself, but other meeting attendees will still be able to see you. Consider also limiting the number of people who should have their cameras activated. 

Talk to your Confidant Health team for more strategies that can help you prevent Zoom exhaustion or recharge after a meeting. We're here to support your mental health any time, anywhere.