Exhausted? Irritable? Psychologist's advice on fighting 'Zoom fatigue'

As Auckland comes to the end of the fifth week of lockdown, the days are really beginning to blur seamlessly into each other.

Anecdotal evidence on social media suggests many of us are feeling increasingly lethargic, snoozy and snappy as the weeks drag on. 

If you've been chained to your home desk setup and only communicating with coworkers through back-to-back video calls all day, by the end of the day the thought of even looking at another screen can be hard to take. 

But Auckland clinical psychologist Dr Victoria Thompson says that while it might be surprising to feel so exhausted without things like the daily commute to worry about, the feelings of exhaustion and irritation while at home are to be expected.  

In fact, it's probably all down to what's come to be known as 'Zoom fatigue'. 

Dr Vic Thompson
Dr Victoria Thompson says even without the daily commute to worry about, working from home brings its own emotional challenges. Photo credit: Supplied.

She told Newshub that a recent Stanford study found this lockdown lethargy isn't just all in our heads - it's down to the day filled with multiple video calls and virtual meetings. 

"They've found a number of reasons that we might be feeling more tired than ever," she revealed. 

Excessive amounts of intense eye contact

When communicating on a video call, we don't get the luxury of looking around or staring out of the window.

"We also miss out on non-verbal communication meaning our brain has to work even harder to effectively process what is going on in the other Zoom window," Dr Thompson explained.

She suggests seeing if you can transition some meetings to phonecalls, stop meetings when you said that you will, and avoid back-to-back video calls to give your brain a wee break. 

Looking in a digital mirror 

The impact of looking at ourselves all day can be exhausting, says Dr Thompson.

"It's not natural to have a camera following us around all day, unless we're Kim Kardashian," she joked. 

"Staring at ourselves on Zoom all day can make us pick apart everything: Our hair, our outfit, our gestures. This can lead to us being hyper-critical of ourselves."

She suggests turning the camera off if you don't really need it. 

More time in the chair 

In lockdown we don't have our usual breaks to go for a coffee at the café next door, pop out for lunch, or to go and chat with Sue in accounting, said Dr Thompson.

"In a pandemic we are living in a state of stress and anxiety - this is not a natural environment for humans. We are not meant to be stuck in the same chair all day with the same lighting and computer screens glowing in our face."

She suggests trying to get outside for a quick ten minutes with a coffee, or to go for a stroll on your lunch break.

"A lot of research show time spent outdoors can decrease anxiety and improve mood. To be productive at work we need changes in the air we breathe and scenery we see."

Step back

Further to that last point, a stroll in the fresh air might just help you solve that work problem you've been struggling with all day, says Dr Thompson. 

"Things at work can feel overwhelming until we take a step back from them. Our emotions can rule our decision-making process - often in the wrong way - so stepping away from the screen gives us time to make more rational, thoughtful decisions."


Finally, Dr Thompson noted that during this time of uncertainty and stress, it's important to be "as kind and gentle with yourselves as you can". 

"Take breaks when you need them and step off Zoom when you can. Take time to connect with those around you and get outside for a bit - perhaps with an umbrella, if you're in Auckland."