Five Ways to Fight Virtual Fatigue (Yes, It Exists)

Published July 18th, 2020 by Dr. Betsy Hoida, PharmD, BCPS
Fact Checked by
Chris Riley

“Life in the Time of Corona” has changed the way we play, socialize, shop, exercise, and work. Those of us who are fortunate enough to be still employed have probably learned to function in ways we never imagined. Here is a common scenario many of you have experienced.

Erica wakes up at 5:30 am. She makes herself a cup of coffee, throws on a pair of yoga pants and t-shirt, and joins an online class. Halfway through, her husband stumbles through the living room, almost tripping over her in the dark, and grumbles “Really, Erica? You could have told me that I was on camera.” She ignores him and continues with deep inhales and exhales. 

 Fast forward to 8 am, and the family circus is in full session. She hasn’t had time to change her clothes, shower, or do anything to get ready for “work.” 

She throws her hair up into a messy bun, swipes on some concealer and mascara, and “logs in” to her first meeting.

By meeting number five, she is on brain overload. She tries to maintain eye contact, showing she is paying attention, but her brain keeps jumping around- what is that book on Tom’s shelf? Sarah forgot to hit the “mute” button as she yelled instructions to her husband. How much longer will this last? I wonder what I am going to make for dinner?...

Keep reading to find out five simple ways to fight this fatigue.

What is Virtual Fatigue?

Virtual fatigue, or “Zoom fatigue” (a nickname that applies to any number of online networking platforms), was pretty much unheard of before quarantine. Now, pop that term into your search bar, and a lengthy list of reading material appears. The amount of information is exhausting…almost…virtually fatiguing?

Why Does Virtual Fatigue Happen?

Communication Breakdown

When we communicate with each other, many messages are being sent and received. Some information, like nonverbal cues, are so subtle we may not even be aware they are happening. When we are meeting face to face, we process the signals subconsciously compared to a virtual meeting. Paying attention to nonverbal cues like pitch, tone of voice, and facial expressions require a lot of mental energy.

Can You Hear Me Now? (Technical Issues)

Technology can backfire. Frozen screens, software crashes, unreliable wi-fi were all an unwelcome part of early quarantine. For those of us who are “tech hesitant,” this only added to the anxiety of virtual meets.

Silence makes people uncomfortable. Even something as subtle as a 1.2-second delay, has us scrambling to check our internet connection. 

You’re So Vain

Looking at our own face is stressful. When we make angry or negative facial expressions, it can cause more intense emotions than viewing the same expressions in others. 

Women may feel more pressure than their male colleagues when it comes to getting “camera-ready.” Looking at yourself on camera can be distracting and force you to focus on that rather than the content of the meeting. 

Windows to the Soul

Maintaining consistent eye contact, one of the only ways to show you are engaged, is draining. On top of that, using a feature that highlights the person speaking might be too up close and personal.

A study on the impact of eye contact measured EEG activity of participants as they maintained eye contact with the experimenter at two to 32 feet. The brain activity of the participants was at its highest when the researcher stared directly into their eyes at two feet. 

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Five Ways to Fight Virtual Fatigue

1) Take A Break

Avoid scheduling meetings back to back. Get up, stretch your legs, and go for a short walk. Turn on some music and run around with your family. This activity will not be on Zoom. 

2) Set Boundaries

Separate your working space from your living space. Explain to family members where you will be and for how long. Instruct your children where to go if they need something. Train them to recognize the difference between “emergency vs. it can wait.” Reward good behavior. 

3) Avoid Multitasking 

Not only can it cause you to miss crucial information, but it also reduces your productivity, this study reports by as much as 40 percent. Plus, as much as you think you are hiding it, people can tell. The clicks on the keyboard are difficult to mask.

4) Turn Off the Camera

Use your phone, rather than your computer to call into a meeting. Take notes with pen and paper. It will help you use a different part of your brain and absorb the content differently.  This also helps with the earlier mentioned technical issues. 

5) Use Wireless Headphones

They filter out noise, are way more comfortable, and let you move freely. Enough said.

Give yourself credit. You are learning every day. These are awkward changes for every person in quarantine. Smile. You got this.


Sklar, J.’ Zoom fatigue’ is taxing the brain. Here’s why that happens. National Geographic website. Article published April 24, 2020. Accessed July 8, 2020.

Robert, Y. Here’s Why You’re Feeling Zoom Fatigue. Forbes website. Published April 30, 2020. Accessed July 8, 2020.

Jiang, M. The reason Zoom calls drain your energy. BBC website. Published April 22, 2020. Accessed July 8, 2020.

Vergallito A, Mattavelli G, Gerfo EL, et al. Explicit and Implicit Responses of Seeing Own vs. Others’ Emotions: An Electromyographic Study on the Neurophysiological and Cognitive Basis of the Self-Mirroring Technique. Front Psychol. 2020;11:433. Published 2020, March 31. DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2020.00433

Gale A, Spratt G, Chapman AJ, Smallbone A. EEG correlates of eye contact and interpersonal distance. Biol Psychol. 1975;3(4):237-245. doi:10.1016/0301-0511(75)90023-x

Morris, B. Why Does Zoom Exhaust You? Science Has an Answer. The Wall Street Journal website. Published May 27, 2020. Accessed July 8, 2020.

Rubinstein JS, Meyer DE, Evans JE. Executive control of cognitive processes in task switching. J Exp Psychol Hum Percept Perform. 2001;27(4):763-797. doi:10.1037//0096-1523.27.4.763

Degges-White S, Zoom Fatigue: Don’t Let Video Meetings Zap Your Energy. Psychology Today website. Published April 4, 2020. Accessed July 8, 2020.

Published July 18th, 2020 by Dr. Betsy Hoida, PharmD, BCPS
Fact Checked by
Chris Riley

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