Zoom Fatigue: Causes, Coping and Finding Comfort with Zoom


This article is by Kaveh Farrokh (Ph.D.), Counsellor & Learning Specialist at the Langara College Counselling Department. The author is also indebted to Prerna Bedi of the Langara College International Education Department for ideas and suggestions for the section on “Coping and Finding Comfort with Zoom”.


Among the many new changes to society, or as the leaders of the World Economic Forum would state in “The Great Reset” of society in the 21st century, is the increased prevalence of on-line modes of communication for work, school and personal domains. As noted by Jeremy N. Bailensen (Media Psychologist, Department of Communication, Stanford University):

“Videoconferencing is here to stay …”

The first part of this article outlines the latest findings with respect to the primary causes of Zoom fatigue followed by suggestions for coping and finding comfort using Zoom on a daily basis in a non-line working environment. Acknowledgement is also made for the spirit of human resilience in having been able to adapt to the Zoom medium (and on-line environments in general) in a short period of time in 2020.

Readers are reminded that Zoom has been an indispensable tool for facilitating the transition from physical to on-line learning and work environments. The article endeavors to explore ways to work more adaptively with this medium in the primary focus for the promotion of mental wellness and success.

The Four Primary Causes of Zoom Fatigue

The first academic study to be published on Zoom fatigue is by Jeremy N.  Bailensen who published his paper in the (peer-reviewed) Technology, Mind and Behavior journal in 2021 (see References). Bailensen has identified four factors as being seminal to Zoom fatigue:

[1] Eye gaze at a close distance: Zoom was originally designed for interaction between persons who already have close relationships, allowing for faces to be seen up close as well as long bouts of direct eye contact. These dynamics are often now being applied between large numbers of persons who are not involved in close, trusting interpersonal relationships.  In a typical zoom group session (classrooms, meetings between colleagues, workshops, etc.) every Zoom participant receives (direct and frontal) eye gazes from all participants continuously. This is of course in stark contrast to when persons are seated in a physical classroom, board-room meeting, workshop, etc. Even if the faces are 2-dimensional (on screen) versus real faces in the physical domain, the experience of being “stared” at continuously over a longer period can be taxing mentally and physically. Note that this is happening regardless of who the speaker is at the time. Recent studies (before the wide application of Zoom in 2020) have demonstrated that being “stared at” continuously by virtual faces on a computer screen can lead to a significant elevation in physiological arousal (Takac, Collett, Blom, Conduit, Rehm, & Foe, 2019).

[2] Cognitive Overload: While exceptions do occur in regular (non-virtual) human face to face interaction and communication, human beings often are often not hyper-sensitive or even consciously focusing on their own non-verbal cues, gestures, mannerisms. What is fascinating with respect to non-verbal human cues, as Bailensen avers, is that this is both highly complex yet also seemingly effortless. Zoom however does not eliminate human non-verbal cues; in fact, the Zoom user must make harder efforts in order to be attuned to (or receive) non-verbal communication – and to also communicate their own non-verbal cues. The extra efforts for the transmission of non-verbal cues often involve monitoring one’s face/image constantly to ensure that this is centered properly for viewers, exaggerating or prolonging approval type gestures such as nods (to ensure that the recipient is being acknowledged, etc.) and to ensure that one is “zooming” into one’s camera (not just the faces) in order to certify that one is making (augmented) eye contact with the individual or group when one speaks. The domain of eye contact is especially significant especially in Zoom where one’s perceived attentiveness is proportional to one’s amount/level of (augmented) eye gaze.

The eye gaze and perceived attentiveness factor are especially significant, notably when technical issues such as the delay of communications due to technical factors are involved. As noted by Manyu Jiang in the BBC (The Reason Zoom Calls Drain Your Energy, April 22, 2020):

Delays on phone or conferencing systems of 1.2 seconds made people perceive the responder as less friendly or focused

As a result, Zoom users have to often be on heightened awareness to ensure that their communication is received as they actually intend to communicate.

It is also possible (although peer-reviewed studies are required to ascertain this) that the individual background screens/themes for each person can also cause impose more cognitive demands for processing. In addition because of the “face” and or “upper body-face” views Zoom users are unabke to decipher other non-0verbak communications cues during the on-line communication.

[3] The “All day Mirror” effect: This is the experience of always being able to see one’s reflection without interruptions. Another way of characterizing this is the “looking glass” phenomenon. Bailensen provides a succinct description of this experience:

Imagine in the physical workplace, for the entirety of an 8-hr workday, an assistant followed you around with a handheld mirror, and for every single task you did and every conversation you had, they made sure you could see your own face in that mirror. This … is what happens on Zoom calls. Even though one can change the settings to “hide self view,” the default is that we see our own real-time camera feed, and we stare at ourselves throughout hours of meetings per day. … Zoom users are seeing reflections of themselves at a frequency and duration that hasn’t been seen before in the history of media and likely the history of people (… exceptions for people … in dance studios and other places … full of mirrors).

At first glance this would appear positive in that it can lead to prosocial behaviours, however this comes at a cost: elevated stress. This has been studied in the context of having participants constantly seeing their reflections in mirrors (see Fejfar & Hoyle, 2000). The same effect, albeit more pronounced, has been observed in persons exposed to non-stop video feedback. This was found in fact in a decades old study by Ingram, Cruet, Johnson and Wisnicki (1988) found that exposing participants to constant video feedback leads to higher levels of self-focused attention, negative affect with the researchers proposing that elevated self-focus may even lead to depression-type symptoms.

Zoom imposes a high level of “looking glass” effects in that we want to also ensure that we do not embarrass ourselves in front of the Zoom audience.

The 202s Most Embarrassing Zoom Moments (Source: CGTN America).

[4] Reduction of mobility: The constant demand for one to “sit still” and to keep physical movements to a minimum can exert a number of maladaptive physical and mental impacts, some of which may be expostulated here. Put simply the on-line work environment has had a revolutionary impact with respect mobility and the workplace. In a physical work environment, a person will walk out of their office and/or workspace to go to the waiting area, visit colleagues or even take a trip to the local cafeteria to obtain a cup of coffee. Before and after work, persons would also utilize public transportation and even if the person was driving to/from work, they would still be walking to/from the parking area to their office. The on-line format has eliminated these processes with the demands of Zoom having further limited physical mobility. If left unchecked, limitations of physical activity can exert a profound impact on wellness, notably mental wellness.

While exercise has long been known to be beneficial for physical health, more recent studies have demonstrated the positive impacts of physical activity upon mental wellness, notably mood, thinking, focus, concentration, learning and memory. This is aptly summarized by Raichlen and Alexander who have noted that:

“…exercise seems to be as much a cognitive activity as a physical one”  (2020, p.28).

The brain derives specific benefits from physical exercise (notably moderate intensity aerobic workouts three days a week for a year) (Raichlen and Alexander,2020, p.28-29; Bassuk, Church and Manson, 2019, p.81-82). Two notable impacts upon the brain are:

  • Increased size of the hippocampus which is critical for building memories during learning and integrated with the “emotional brain” or limbic system which plays a crucial role in stress management
  • Increased levels of BNDF (Brain-derived Neurotrophic Factor) which helps to grow and repair damaged neurons. BNDF plays a major role on cognition and mental wellness.

Put simply, physical exercise enhances the operations of the limbic system/hippocampus which leads to:

  • Significantly lowered fear, depression and anxiety
  • Significantly enhanced attention, decision making, planning, organization, learning and memory

Exercise exerts the following (adaptive) impacts on neurotransmitters:

  • Elevation of dopamine which is the sense of one’s intrinsic “reward” when enjoying various tasks
  • Elevation of serotonin which helps promote peacefulness, serenity, hopefulness
  • The suppression of cortisol, hormone that creates the sense of stress
  • Enhancement of GABA (the neurochemical allowing us to “hit the brakes” which, like Serotonin, leads to a sense of serenity and calm)
  • Enhancement of glutamate which is critical for learning and memory

Studies by Pontzor (2019) conclude that (in contrast to apes) exercise is not only not optional for humans but is in fact essential. The lack of physical activity due to the “modern lifestyle” of regularized lack of physical activity notably sitting for long periods of time for Zoom, studying, work, internet surfing, engaging with social media, playing video games, etc. can have a notable impact upon a person’s mental and physical wellness. As noted by Pontzor with respect to one of his findings is that:

“Bingeing all 63 ½ Hours of Game of Thrones will cost You one day on this planet” (2019, p.26).

Note that there are documented cases where persons who have sat for too long behind (and engaged with) computer screens have suffered serious and even fatal health consequences. See for example: 73 Hours of Video Games = Total Organ Collapse

Interestingly as study by Voss, Nagamatsu, Liu-Ambrose and Kramer published in 2011 in the Journal of Applied Physiology concludes that:

“… there is growing evidence that both aerobic and resistance training are important for maintaining cognitive and brain health in old age (2011, p.1505)

Coping and Finding Comfort with Zoom

Giving the novel aspect of this domain at the time of writing, more peer-reviewed research studies are required to fully ascertain the most adaptive ways to cope and find comfort with Zoom, however the following eight suggestions are provided by an array of experts including Jeremy Bailensen, Liz Fosslien and Mollie West Duffy in the Harvard Business Review journal (April 29, 2020) as well as Manyu Jiang in the BBC, The Reason Zoom Calls Drain Your Energy (April 22, 2020).

[1] Ground Yourself before Zoom sessions: Take some time before the Zoom session to relax and unwind yourself. This can be easily accessed by a number of quick strategies such as massaging your temples and closing your eyes. Quick physical exercise such as stretching can also help to relieve stiffness in our bodies.

[2] Build Transition and/or Break Periods between Zoom Meetings: Building transition periods between Zoom sessions can help the user to build-in exercise/stretch routines which as noted already are vital for mental wellness. These transition periods also provide a buffer for the user to have a sense of personal space and quiet time to attain mental rest and engage in relaxation responses – these can be activities can be as simple as a short nap, meditation and breathing exercises to any activity that promotes one sense of wellness, serenity and calm.

[3] Protect Your Wellness Boundaries – Take Breaks and/or Time-Out when You feel drained and Fatigued: Whenever possible and adaptive, consider taking time out or a break when you feel fatigued, drained or overwhelmed as a result of fatigue with Zoom sessions. This process can also be assisted by managing your Zoom sessions as seen in the following suggestion.

[4] Learn Zoom Management: Protect Your Privacy and Consider “Zoom Audio” if Possible: One of the effective ways with which to protect oneself from Zoom fatigue is to learn ways to manage one’s Zoom sessions as seen in the Very Well Mind venue.

If possible and/or appropriate to the setting one is immersed in, and if this option is available, consider phone calls or “Zoom Audio” if this is adaptable to your Circumstances with classrooms and work.

[5] For students and workplace persons: Get to know your new teammates. As a student starting a new class it helps to make an effort to get to know your classmates. This can help, especially when you do not know the persons prior to the first class. As result, this can then lead to more trust and comfort during the Zoom sessions. This tip however also has adaptations to work type meetings when one is about to “meet” wholly new persons. In a sense this would be similar to the “small talk” that happens in the boardroom before the formal meeting begins. Much of this can be facilitated by the chairs of these meetings should this option be considered.

[6] Avoid Multi-Tasking: One factor that will help decrease cognitive overload and stress is to avoid multi-tasking as much as possible. For example, a person may be working on another task or assignment between multiple screens which taxes our attention system and can also lead to an elevation of stress as we are aware that we need to be present during the Zoom session.

[7] Turn off unnecessary Distractions on Your Laptop. This item is related to [5] in terms of ensuring that we are not burdened with additional (and unnecessary) distractions. These can often be in the form of the smartphone, as well as various social media and communication platforms either on our laptops and/or smartphones. The simplest strategy is to simply cut-off all forms of media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) that are unnecessary and unrelated to our task(s) – in this case, our Zoom session. For more on this topic consult the following resource by the Langara College Counselling Department: Your Smartphone, Your Health and Your IQ or download pdf in Academia.edu.

[8] Make Virtual Social Events Optional: Interestingly “optional” virtual meetings may be helping to elevate the sense of Zoom fatigue. As noted by Manyu Jiang in the BBC (The Reason Zoom Calls Drain Your Energy, April 22, 2020):

“It doesn’t matter whether you call it a virtual happy hour, it’s a meeting, because mostly we are used to using these tools for work …”

When the options for “optional” virtual meetings avail themselves, consider the benefits this may provide form you, and if this is not essential for your activities, it would be adaptive to take this as a personal (and private) time just for yourself.

[9] Have a “non-Zoom” day. This is essentially part of much larger discussion of unplugging for one’s happiness and mental wellness. There is now ample research evidence to demonstrate the relationship between the excessive use of electronic devices (e.g., iPhones, iPads, laptops, PCs, etc.) and their negative impacts on mental and physical health. It is thus ironic that the founders of such devices and technologies have been cited by major media outlets as follows:

Bill gates Limits His Children’s Use of Technology” (The Guardian, Aatif Sulleyman, April 21, 2017)

The Reason Steve Jobs Didn’t Let his Children Use an iPad” (The Independent, Doug Bolton, February 24, 2016)

More recent studies have discovered the adverse impact of excessive device use on mental health. It is notable that these studies have not been looking at the impact of WiFi technology per se: these have been looking at the amount of device use. A look at the results of just a sample of these studies are of profound consequence. Findings reported by the Comprehensive Psychiatry Journal (Volume 55, Issue 2, February 2014, pages 342-348) and IEEE Pervasive Computing (Volume 14, no. 3, July-Sept. 2015, pages 10-13) have found significant links between excessive cell-phone use and serious mental health issues.

Is Social Media Hurting Your Mental Health? | Bailey Parnell | TEDxRyersonU (Source: Tedx on YouTube).

Excessive device use has also been linked to declining IQ scores (up to 10 points!) – For more on this topic see:

“Impact of Social Media and Internet Communications on Intelligence, Learning and Emotional Fitness”

Reporting in 2018, Jabr has summarized the most recent psychology research findings with respect to electronic (WiFi propelled) devices:

  1. A large number of people report of the “Tele-pressure” phenomenon: this is the pressure to remain “connected”, even when one is on holidays and has times off.
  2. Un-plugging enhances Mental and Physical health.
  3. Stress is decreased by lessening one’s interaction with (WiFi propelled) devices.
  4. Meditation and Yoga help to further reduce stress.
  5. Un-plugging also increases productivity by up to 47-62 minutes per week!

For more on this topic consult the following resource by the Langara College Counselling Department: Your Smartphone, Your Health and Your IQ or download pdf in Academia.edu.

[10] Build “Zoomba” into your routine: Exercise regularly. As noted earlier in this article exercise is essential and not optional for human beings. To summarize from what we discussed earlier, exercise (including dance routines such as Zumba or “Zoomba”) significantly enhance mental wellness (moods, emotions, thoughts) as well as success (focus, concentration, attention, learning and memory).

[11] Bring back the Laughs. Even before the onset of the Covid crisis of 2020, the rapid changes to the global economy and the evolution of technology have been posing challenges to human mental wellness in general. One of the very human factors that help bolster resilience is humor and laughter. This has been challenging given the long hours people sit behind not just the “Zoom screen” by electronic, computer, smartphone, etc. devices in general. In fact as noted by Emma Elsworthy in a key article in the Independent newspaper the average adult will spend an average of 34 years of their lifespan looking at screens (May 11, 2020). The same report notes that people on average will spend almost 5000 hours per year with their “smart” gadgets. This has resulted in a phenomenon shift in humanity with respect to spontaneous expressions of humor and laughter, independent of on-line media. Genuine laughter provides six distinct benefits:

  1. Pumping out of anti-bodies, increasing the body’s ability to fight infections.
  2. Increase in immune cells.
  3. Relaxing of muscles (up to forty-five minutes after deep laughter).
  4. Decrease in blood pressure as blood flow is enhanced in the blood vessels.
  5. Slight decrease in calories.
  6. Increase in endorphins which are associated with the state of flow, balancing euphoria with relaxation.

The end-result of the above is enhanced resistance against disease and an increase in one’s natural life span. A key suggestion to consider is to enable oneself to have ready access to healthy humor venues through one’s already existing on-line formats. For example, one may consider subscribing to various comedy channels on YouTube or download cartoons, videos into a file on one’s laptop, etc. with which to readily access anytime.

Surprising Health Benefits of Laughter (Source: Mayo Clinic-Surprising Benefits of Laughter).

For more on this topic and the science of happiness in general, see the following resource by the Langara College Counselling Department: What are the Overall Characteristics of Happiness? or download pdf in Academia.edu.


Bailensen, J.N. (2021). Nonverbal Overload: A Theoretical Argument for the Causes of Zoom Fatigue. Technology, Mind and Behavior, Volume 2, Issue 1, DOI: 10.1037/tmb0000030.

Bassuk, S.S., Church, T.S., & Manson, J.E. (2018). Why exercise works magic. Scientific American Mind: Behavior-Brain Science-Insights (Special Collector’s Edition), Volume 27, Number 1, Spring, pp.80-83.

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