Tinnitus Tuesdays: ‘Zoom Fatigue’

It’s week 8 of lockdown here in the UK and that’s meant that a lot of us are working from home and now more than ever we are using video calling for pretty much everything. While video calling is a great use of tech and allows us to see those we cannot physically be with, the constant video calling for work meetings and social events has made me feel absolutely exhausted. 

You’ve probably seen ‘Zoom fatigue’ as a common feature in articles and across social media, let’s be clear here, Zoom is not the only culprit so it’s not totally fair that it gets the bad rap. This video call fatigue is common for pretty much every video calling platform out there, but what does this all mean?

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

A really interesting article in Quartz likened this ‘Zoom fatigue’ to something that the deaf and hard of hearing community battle with on a day-to-day basis (prior to lockdown and this constant use of video calling). As someone that suffers from a hearing impairment (tinnitus and hearing loss) and is now encountering multiple video calls a week whether work or social, I’m feeling super drained and it’s not because I don’t enjoy the social interaction it’s just really hard work!

This increased occurrence of video calling is exhausting and is similar to how deaf and hearing-impaired people never stop working to process sounds and translate what has been said throughout the day. 

Let’s talk about why video calls are so draining in general.

Video calls force us to focus more intently on the conversations in order to absorb the information, and because we’re on camera it gives us this feeling of always having to be “switched on”, anything and everything can be distracting in a video call setting. 

The way we process information from a video call is what makes it tiring. We have to show we’re paying attention by looking at the camera which in normal circumstances (unless you rely on lip-reading) you wouldn’t typically be staring directly at someones face. This constant gaze makes us tired, in physical meetings/social interactions you’d use peripheral vision and in video meetings it can be pretty obvious when someone is not paying attention. Throw in the increased screen time, this makes our eyes tired and can add to the exhaustion. 

Seeing ourselves on camera is also an added stress, not only is it super distracting but it can make us more conscious of how we look, more so than before. If you think about it, it’s totally understandable, it’s not like we sit in front of mirrors (if we can help it) in meetings and social interactions, it’s weird, distracting and likely to increase anxiety.

Another contributor is the lack of non-visual cues, that we’re normally so used to, this can lead to people talking at once, then awkwardly pausing waiting for someone to speak. It makes for very awkward conversations and throw in “speaker mode”, where the video calling platform enlarges the video of whoever is speaking, which can be confusing when multiple people speak at once. This can also be accidental if people don’t mute their mics, there’s a lot to think about when it comes to video meetings and even more to process in order to absorb the information. 

This has also been termed ‘concentration fatigue’ by audiologists and researchers, this means that this fatigue is a result of a measurable increase in listening effort, which is something very common in the deaf and hearing-impaired community. If you are not hearing impaired in any way, it’s likely the first time you’re feeling this. Add in external noises and audio feedback, it can be very difficult to communicate and it means you have to do a lot of work to piece conversations together, and after a couple of hours, you’re exhausted. This is what the deaf and hearing-impaired community deal with regularly. 

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Video calls & tinnitus:

Having to deal with these frustrations in normal situations daily can be tiring at times, but adding in this increased use of video calling it’s meant that I’ve been totally wiped out after an hour meeting (let alone two hours). I feel like I’m having to work even harder to understand what’s been said, I usually rely on lip-reading and it’s not always possible in a video like setting. It can be quite stressful when there’s janky audio, time delays and poor video quality. I also really struggle to get the sound just right without aggravating my tinnitus. I’ve had to stop wearing headphones during video meetings, I’ve found this aggravates my tinnitus quite a bit. Everyone’s devices have different mics and different sound systems so it can be challenging to get the volume level just right for everyone.

I’ve put together a video call wish list of things that I think could improve the video call experience (a girl can dream, right?), whether you’re hearing impaired or not:

  • Better volume adjustments. The ability to adjust the volume for each individual rather than just adjusting the volume on your device. This would really help to keep the sound consistent, meaning for me that my tinnitus would get less aggravated. 
  • Realtime subtitles for those who need it. Some companies do provide this at an added cost but it’s something I wish was more integrated into the video calling services.
  • Reduced video delays. While this is likely due to each person’s internet speed, I’d love it if it was more consistent (like a said, wish list).
  • The ability to see all videos. This isn’t a problem for Zoom but some video calling platforms only allow a certain number of video users at once. 

Moving forward, how can you combat video fatigue:

  • Take regular breaks. If a meeting is knocking on to its second hour, request a break. Look away from the screen for a bit, stretch your legs, drink some water etc.
  • Avoid multi-tasking. Stop switching between tasks, it can be so easy just to check an email or respond to a text. Turn off notifications during your meetings, after all you wouldn’t do this in a physical meeting.
  • Reduce onscreen stimuli. If you don’t need to view everyone on camera, then switch it to “speaker mode”. You can always give yourself a visual break while still being “present” in the meeting by moving or minimising your window whilst still hearing audio (though this may not be applicable for those who are hearing impaired).
  • Make virtual socials opt-in. This is really important, while it’s so great to have the social interactions and we do need them, make them optional. Sometimes if you’ve just had too many video calls in one week, you really can’t bare another. Allow people to take some time off video calling.
  • Switch to a phone call or email (where possible). Just because we have these great tools we don’t have to use them for everything, sometimes a simple email or phone call will suffice. We don’t need to switch everything to video call, just because it’s available to us.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post. If you’re feeling this video call fatigue, you’re not alone. Hopefully, this has given you some insight into why you’re feeling this way and how to move forward. If you’re hearing-impaired, I’d love to know how you’re navigating this? For those that have tinnitus, has video calling affected you and your tinnitus? Let me know.

Thank you for reading.

Stay safe,

Beth x

Photo by bongkarn thanyakij from Pexels

 

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