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Zoom Fatigue is Impacting Student Productivity and Our Overall Health

Updated: Mar 3, 2021

By: Bianca Viana

Megan Masilungan, a sophomore nursing student, is done with Zoom.

“Between online classes, homework and studying, there is no break from the screen,” she said. “Whenever I am on Zoom for a long time, my laptop starts overheating because of how hard it’s working; after almost a year of constantly using Zoom, I feel just like my laptop sometimes. It has affected me on a physical and emotional level. I’ve been developing headaches from being on my computer for too long. I’ve been getting tired very easily because staying on my laptop is draining.”

What Masilungan is experiencing is Zoom fatigue, a new phenomenon that has emerged from the pandemic that people report after being connected on Zoom for long periods of time.

“How people define Zoom fatigue might vary from person to person, and research on the topic is still very scarce and limited,” said Fernando Krause, an adjunct professor in Adelphi’s Gordon F. Derner School of Psychology. “Some people report feeling tired, burnout and more distracted than usual while connected, but a list of official symptoms still doesn’t exist.”

As students embark on their second semester of mainly virtual education, many are starting to suffer from the adverse effects on Zoom fatigue. Image courtesy of Google.

When the pandemic first began back in March of 2020 many of us saw Zoom as a somewhat positive change for school. After all, we’re all used to being online for social and entertainment purposes. But this semester as many of us continue our college careers via Zoom, we can benefit from advice about how to handle the symptoms that Masilungan described.

Michael Moore, an associate professor in the psychology department, added that it’s not just students who are experiencing fatigue. Professors are also saying that they’re experiencing it.

“It comes down to being able to pay attention and stay engaged for less time in Zoom classes or meeting,” Moore said. “Students and faculty alike have noticed that three hours of in-person classes seemed more or less do-able, yet it is almost impossible to stay engaged for three hours in a Zoom class.”

And most of us far exceed that screen time on a daily basis due to our course load and schedules.

Krause said that age may affect how one experiences Zoom fatigue. “In fact, it is possible that symptoms might even vary between different generations. For example, it is well established that people from Get Z are more well-versed with technology and naturally spend more time connected than other generations. That may mean that for most college students Zoom fatigue might be less of an issue and might present differently from other generations. However, it is important to note that this is still all speculation.”

Krause added that there are various ways in which symptoms can present. “Various hypotheses are being considered at the moment, from biological aspects (like possible differences in heart rate or levels of hormones), to neuropsychological ones (like differences in the brain’s reward system, problems with facial recognition and even millisecond delays that affect communication),” he said.

But it may not just be the actual screen time that’s the issue, Moore said. One thing that is key is understanding that students—and faculty—may be having a tough time is the isolation and demands of online education.

“It doesn’t help that the uncertain nature of our times and the threat of Covid may mean that you are fearful and worried about sensations related to your physical body (`Am I getting sick?’) and the behaviors of others with whom you live (`Did my dad just leave the house without a mask?’),” he said. “All of these experiences are going to be taxing to your ability to pay attention and both faculty and students need to be mindful of this.”

Masilungan can relate. As a nursing student, she is in one of the most rigorous and dense course loads a student can experience in their undergrad years. She said the difficulties of the pandemic have affected her aside from just online school. “It’s been difficult not being able to see family and friends as often as I usually do.”

This is true for many of college students. In-person classes allowed for us to have social interaction daily. Many students rely upon family and friends as a support system and sometimes you just cannot get that same support through a screen. Constantly being isolated from others and attached to a screen can have severe impacts on one's mental health. Nationwide surveys are showing a major increase in symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression for elementary school kids learning at home and U.S. workers who working from home since the pandemic started. So, it’s not surprising that many college students are also experiencing these issues as a direct result of this pandemic.

“It feels like a never-ending cycle of stress where there’s no separation between school and home because I use my laptop for school, homework, studying and even enjoyable activities like watching Netflix,” Masilungan said.

Moore said in times where we are often overworked and stressed it is important that we remember to take care of ourselves. To combat to combat the effects of Zoom fatigue, Krause recommended:

  1. Step away from the screen. Get up and stretch, walk around, go outside for a few minutes for air. “We need to undo the damage of sitting in front of our screens for eight-plus hours a day,” he said.

  2. Use virtual reality headsets to project ourselves as full body avatars so our interpersonal interactions feel more interactive and more social, as opposed to just seeing each other in 2D on a screen. “You can simulate physical touch through virtual hugs, handshakes, high fives and fist bumps.”

However, Krause said there is no real solution for combating Zoom fatigue because “we are just avoiding the actual question of ‘how do we feel normal again?’ To address that, people need support. They need consistent, affordable access to mental health resources.”

He recommends contacting mental health resources such as therapists. “Therapists are doing essential work by guiding people through this situation and containing their feelings of anxiety, depression, isolation and grief, and helping them find ways to cope with this new reality.”

At Adelphi, the Student Counseling Center (SCC) is a resource that is always available to students and is free of charge. In times like these it is important to seek help if you or others around you notice that your mental health is declining. The Long Island Crisis Center is another resource available to all and can be reached at 516-679-1111.

As we continue into this semester, remember to prioritize yourself and seek help if you need it. As a community we must continue to support each other. Remember to check in with your friends and family as well.

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