• If you’re starting to feel weary of virtual meetings while working from home or keeping in touch with friends and family post-COVID, it’s possible that you’re experiencing Zoom fatigue. 
  • Though Zoom fatigue may make us anxious while interacting with others, our anxiety may come across as standoffish or disinterested, which makes it important to assess and improve our body language and nonverbal communication skills.
  • Three common Zoom fatigue symptoms include hyper-focusing on your image while using programs like Zoom or Facetime, holding one’s breath, and worrying about how and when to maintain eye contact.
  • These symptoms can be managed by turning off your self-view feature, practicing diaphragmatic breathing, and taking your virtual meeting program out of full-screen mode to give yourself more perceived space while talking.
  • Most importantly, don’t take yourself too seriously—virtual etiquette is something that we’re all figuring out, especially while rethinking work-from-home culture.

Platforms like Zoom, Google Meet, and even FaceTime have streamlined our ability to communicate both personally and professionally. However, the best virtual meetings always seem to be short, sweet, and efficient. In these dream scenarios, everyone wins: There are no awkward pauses, people talking over one another or trying to find the perfect place on the screen to stare at when it isn’t their turn to speak. But more often than not, these social mishaps occur.

The apprehension we might feel about Zoom meetings can be misinterpreted by our peers through body language. It’s long been estimated that more than 50% of all communication that occurs between ourselves and others happens nonverbally. When we feel uncomfortable in social interactions, our body language can start to change, and we may begin doing things like crossing our arms, slouching our shoulders forward, or making awkward eye contact. 

If we approach each virtual meeting by perceiving it as a battle or struggle, this mindset will eventually wear us out, signaling the beginning symptoms of Zoom fatigue. When Zoom fatigue sets in, our virtual etiquette can start to slouch, literally. There’s no need to view virtual meetings as torture. Learn how to combat Zoom fatigue by improving your body language, nonverbal communication skills, and virtual etiquette. And managers/employers: Keep Zoom fatigue top of mind. Helping your team members through this work stressor (and further supporting their mental health) is important.

How to Combat Zoom Fatigue Symptoms

Our emotional state should be steady while we’re sitting through a web meeting, virtual event, or even just talking with friends. If our thoughts are all over the place, our attention will wander, and we might start sending mixed (and potentially negative) signals to those around us. If you’re filled with dread at the thought of firing up your webcam again, consider whether you’re experiencing the following Zoom fatigue symptoms:  

1) You spend too much time fighting the urge to look at yourself during virtual meetings.

How to correct:
Turn off your self-view option in Google Meet, Zoom, or Webex (FaceTime currently doesn’t offer this feature). A 2021 experiment found that the more time people spent staring at their own image in a webcam, the more critical they became of their own appearance and how they appear to others. Don’t let self-criticism be a symptom of Zoom fatigue that you have to experience—no one else is likely paying as close attention to yourself as you are

2) You hold your breath or breathe irregularly during virtual meetings—a classic sign of social anxiety:

How to correct:
Instead of breathing shallowly or holding your breath when you start feeling anxious or bored, try diaphragmatic breathing, also known as belly breathing. Instead of expanding only your chest as you fill your lungs, puff out your stomach and rib cage to fill your abdomen, too. This method of breathing moves the diaphragm more effectively with each breath, pulling more air into the lungs. When we’re anxious or stressed, our adrenal system is triggered, stiffening our muscles and diaphragm, as well. As a result, it’s more difficult for us to breathe, and the limited amount of oxygen may increase our agitation during virtual meetings.Paying attention to your breathwork may also help to improve body language and your nonverbal communication skills, as well—a 2017 study found that diaphragmatic breathing practiced over 8 weeks significantly reduced the symptoms of clinical anxiety in test subjects.

3) You worry about how (and when) to maintain eye contact during virtual meetings.

How to correct: If you’re wondering how to combat Zoom fatigue, it’s important to know that the amount of prolonged eye contact in web calls can feel emotionally draining to some. Try taking the virtual program out of full-screen mode, or shut off your webcam for a few minutes—it’s alright to take a break in larger groups. Experts suggest that this might create more of a mental “space” between you and the other participants. In most web meetings, others who are present aren’t expecting you to try to make eye contact with them, anyways. After all, the field of view is far wider than in a face-to-face conversation.

Improve Your Body Language and Nonverbal Communication Skills

When we feel tired, insecure, or uncomfortable, we may unconsciously roll our shoulders forward, or cross our arms, reducing our physical presence and diminishing our stature. Thankfully, sitting up straight might be more than just something your parents used to get on you about. Compared with slouching, positive body language appears to clinically reduce the amount of time it takes someone to feel better after being in a bad mood. Sitting up a little straighter doesn’t need to feel like a punishment—it’s actually really easy. 

If you’re stuck wondering how to combat Zoom fatigue by improving your body language (and self-image), here are a handful of essentials to keep in mind: 

  • Keep your shoulders squared and down. Tuck your chin slightly down, as well.
  • Sit or stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. When sitting your knees should be bent at a 90-degree angle, and should be at the same height as your hips.
  • Your lower back should be slightly convex, not overly bent forward or backward.
  • Though it’s common to slouch from side to side while we sit, don’t. You can develop muscle imbalances over time that can be tricky to work through later on in life. 

Poor posture can convey unintended negative nonverbal messages to those we interact with. While we may just be anxious during our virtual meeting, poor posture, including crossing our arms or slouching in our chair, can make it look like we’re uninterested, bored, or even combative. And improving your body language by correcting your posture may help improve your mood throughout your web call. 

Virtual Etiquette Is Still Being Established 

Our popular notions of what counts as acceptable forms of communication are rapidly evolving: Compared with only a decade ago, many of us prefer texting over calling. When it comes to newer communication forms like virtual meetings and web calls, it can be hard to know how to combat Zoom fatigue. To make sure that you’re not starting to get burnt out each time you fire up that webcam, remember to:  

  • Turn off your self-view in Zoom, Google Meet, or Webex if you need a break. 
  • Try diaphragmatic breathing to relax, which may help counteract Zoom fatigue symptoms.
  • Take the program out of fullscreen mode to create more personal space for yourself if the amount of eye contact is getting to you.

The most important thing to remember in virtual meetings? Take your profession and your personal relationships seriously—not yourself. You’re going to misspeak, try talking on mute, or otherwise be awkward at least some of the time. No matter who you are, pets, partners, and the wailing of children, young and old, commonly interrupt meetings or catch-up time with friends. Take a deep (diaphragmatic) breath: It’s time to put those new nonverbal communication skills to use. 

And if you’re a manager or employer: Keep Zoom fatigue in mind when you’re scheduling or holding virtual meetings. Remember that many people feel uncomfortable or lack confidence in virtual meetings, and do what you can to empower them or help them find that confidence boost. The mental health of your employees is crucial, and they want to feel supported. Acknowledging and assisting with their Zoom fatigue is a small step — partnering with Thriveworks to offer mental health benefits is a giant leap. Find out more about Thriveworks for Business.