Recently we came across this article on the BBC which asks why you might be finding video calls so tiring, and explains what you might be able to do about it. Given the current climate, we thought that using some of our favourite psychological effects and lessons to help you understand it better would benefit you. So, what does the article actually say?
The article interviews both Gianpiero Petriglieri, an associate professor who studies sustainable learning and development, and Marissa Shuffler, an associate professor who studies workplace well-being and teamwork effectiveness.
Video calls and concentration
Firstly, Petriglieri says that being on a video call actually requires more focus than a face-to-face meeting would. This is because we have to work that bit harder to process body language, as well as tone and pitch of voice, meaning that we “cannot relax into the conversation naturally”. So, if this is the case what can you do about it?
Well, we think you can divide strategies between before, during and after the call.
Before your call
If you know that you have a video call coming up, there a few things you can do to ensure that you will be able to concentrate better. One example is to remove anything in your workspace that may distract you, such as your phone. Our brains are really bad at multi-tasking and as such, when we attempt to do it, it drains our concentration and makes us more stressed…which in turn drains our concentration again! If you have a morning meeting for example, make sure to eat breakfast and have enough water beforehand too. For a more in depth guide on how to stayed focused for longer, check out our 8 hacks here.
During your call
Other than staying hydrated during your call, there is more you can do to keep your concentration levels high. For example, taking notes can help you stay focused and attentive, and ensure that you take in all the essential information from your call. Furthermore, nodding and thinking about questions you could ask will also help to keep you engaged and present during your meeting. There is also some interesting research about certain foods that you can eat or chew to help you stay focused too!
After your call
When the call is finished, you may experience that feeling of fatigue. If this is the case, our first top tip would be not to rush onto another call if possible. Allow yourself time for breaks between meetings to give you a chance to refocus – this is also a great way to break up your screen time. Another simple and seemingly obvious tip is to make sure you get enough sleep each night. This is something that many people fail to do despite how beneficial it can be. Not only will a good night’s sleep boost your motivation, it will also help you to think more positively about what is being said and help you to be more positive when trying to read people’s emotions on the screen.
Video calls and silence
Petriglieri goes on to add that silence can be another challenge on video calls. Silence can make people uncomfortable. For example, the article cites an interesting research project that shows how delays on the phone or on conferencing systems made people view others more negatively. Even if the silence lasted for only 1.2 seconds, people perceived the responder as less friendly or focused. So why does this happen?
We think there are a couple of reasons behind this. Firstly, some people tend to be scared of silence and others find silences ‘awkward’. Often this is because either there is a difference between your perception of how that conversation should be flowing and how it is actually flowing, or because you feel as though not saying something straight away threatened your goal of being accepted by others. In order to overcome these negative associations with silence, try to remember how it can actually be helpful for your conversation. One key message that we love at InnerDrive is to ‘embrace the silence’. This means waiting before you speak and using silence as a tool to promote further conversation.
Video calls and stage fright
Shuffler also adds that being on camera can be stressful as people feel they need to perform and can become quite conscious of how they behave in front of others. We think this links to something called the ‘Spotlight Effect’.
The Spotlight Effect is when people believe they are being noticed more than they really are. Yet it is likely that on video calls, everyone is in the same boat. So, whilst you are worrying about people judging you, the other participants are probably busy worrying about the same thing. Another thought to help you when you are in these situations is that the worst-case scenario very rarely happens. Try to think about what you want to happen or some positive outcomes that you would like to see instead, as opposed to what you don’t want to happen. This will help you relax.
We also think this links to the ‘Confirmation Bias’, which is when people favour information that confirms the beliefs they already held. For example, if you think people are judging you, you may start to process information more negatively and focusing on what confirms this belief. This might lead to you interpreting potentially positive behaviours, such as people smiling or silence, as something negative.
Dealing with nerves for video calls
Some also get quite nervous when they are on video calls – here’s what you can do to manage these nerves. First, pay attention to the way you speak to yourself and make the effort to use self-talk in a helpful, uplifting way. Secondly, spend time planning and thinking about what you want to achieve during the meetings you might have. This will reduce the likelihood of you being caught out or feeling unprepared. For more help, check out our guide to managing nerves.
Can you catch other peoples' emotions on a video call?
In the article, Petriglieri says that video calls are “our reminder of the people we have lost temporarily” and as such can be distressing. We also think that constant online calls are a hotbed for catching other people’s emotions. This is called emotional contagion and refers to how feelings are spread from one person to another; it is best thought of as a form of attitudinal osmosis. Constant calls can also bring about ‘group think’: if the majority opinion is not challenged or scrutinised, it can become accepted as true. Therefore, constantly talking to the same group of people with the same opinions can influence you to start to think in the same way too.
They say a lie travels faster than the truth, but often a half-truth seems to travel faster. So be curious, ask questions, challenge ideas and remember that knowledge is power.
Video calls and FOMO
Petriglieri also believes that people can feel as though they are “forced into these calls” or like they “ought to” be online talking to others. This can foster feelings of Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO). Being aware of whether you want to be online as opposed to feeling as though you have to be online is an important distinction to make.
A nice question to consider is, “Will it make me happier/ help me feel better?” If the answer is no, then we would argue you should probably leave it alone. However, even if you enjoy every chat you have, make sure that you still have some down time too, otherwise you may feel as though you are constantly ‘on’. This can reduce your motivation and make you feel more drained, plus all screen time will affect your ability to sleep too.
Video calls and personal space
Another interesting point made by Petriglieri is that our lives used to be physically separate. For example our work time, social time and personal time often used to take place in different settings. Now, it’s all happening in the same place.
For some, this might sound like the dream, but unfortunately psychology tells us otherwise. Usually people have multiple aspects and context-dependant roles, numerous relationships and take part in a range of activities. However, when these are reduced, “we are more vulnerable to negative feelings”. In the current situation, this might feel like a hard thing to avoid, but there are some things you can do that we think might help!
The most important, and probably something that you have heard plenty of other people mention, is keeping a routine. This is really beneficial because it will help you feel as though you have a purpose, have a sense of control and will provide familiarity.Secondly, if you can, try to do different things in different places in your house. For example, you might sit at a desk for work, have lunch at a table and then talk to friends in your room. This adds a little bit of variety and means that you will concentrate better as your brain will learn the association between those places and their functions. Therefore, when you sit down at your desk your brain knows that “this is where work takes place”.
Although people are starting to adjust to the new normal, it doesn’t necessarily make it easier to deal with. With these easy tips we hope you avoid ‘zoom fatigue’ where possible.
As a final note, remember that people are often highly motivated at the start and at the end of tasks, so if you’re currently experiencing a lack of motivation, that is normal! We’re also in unprecedented, stressful times times – we can’t expect ourselves to perform as usual. To avoid letting these feelings take over – check out our guide on how to stay motivated here, as well as a guide on how to stay optimistic too.
We have put together free resource six-packs to help support you during lockdown. There is something for everyone: teachers, parents and students. Download them for free here.
We also recommend our free printable goal setting worksheets. They will help students develop and maintain a good routine to promote their learning and well-being during lockdown.