Why video calls are so draining, especially for those with anxiety.
Updated: Jul 10, 2020
Many of us being required to work from home during COVID-19 and beyond, and this can necessitate long conference calls over the internet. If you are feeling more anxious after a day of back-to-back video calls, there are a few reasons for this.
1) We are able to see ourselves at the virtual meeting table.
Seeing ourselves on screen is the real-life equivalent of bringing a giant mirror along to every meeting. It is extremely distracting for our brains as our eyes are naturally drawn to our own faces, and it increases our self-awareness of how we appear to others (which is the epitome of being self-conscious).
For individuals with social anxiety in particular, it can provoke additional self-monitoring and scrutinising our digital selves from moment to moment. We want to make sure that we are looking professional enough, or interested and engaged with the conversation, which makes it far harder to actually follow along with the meeting. All of this extra work is exhausting for the mind.
2) Meeting itineraries and “prep time” are diminishing.
Due to the urgency of work meetings in some cases, information might be shared in real-time on screen during the meeting itself. This leaves no time to prepare for the meeting or digest the information, which is particularly challenging for the anxious mind.
3) The lines are blurring between work and home life.
"Well since there's no commute, lets move that briefing call to 8AM, shall we?"
The working day is starting earlier for many of us working from home. Where we might have formerly had a transition period from home to work, such as travelling into work, it is now entirely possible to roll out of bed and jump right into our first meeting of the day.
Not only are we starting earlier, it is tempting to keep working into the evening, (especially if your work space is the living room sofa). Before we know it we're in the groove of working, long past the end of the working day.
This is particularly tricky for anxiety sufferers, who may already struggle to separate work worries from intruding on their home time and vice versa.
...It was once a bad habit to eat lunch and breakfast at our desk...but, now is it dinner too?
4) We are having more Zoom meetings than our brains can handle in a day.
A day of face-to-face meetings would still be draining, even if you could wear pyjama bottoms. You might find yourself being asked to “pop onto Zoom” with someone when an email would have sufficed in the office.
On top of that is the obligatory “digital pub quiz work drinks“, followed by the family check in, and your friend’s online birthday party. That's just what your exhausted brain wanted...more screen time.
5) We cannot control all the interruptions. Remember that Amazon fresh delivery slot you fought so hard for? According to what we call in the UK “sod’s law,” it turns up during your presentation. Dog barking, kids squealing, someone “popping in” to get something. Some things in life we simply can’t control, and some of those are living with us during lockdown.
6) We are multitasking through our meetings.
You thought it was hard enough to concentrate in meetings. Now you can covertly check your emails, research online, and reply to slack, whilst pretending to listen avidly. Dual tasking is more tiring for your brain than focusing on the one thing you’re meant to...(that’s the meeting you’re in, in case you forgot).
7) We are not getting proper rest.
Being on our screens all day and night cause our overly exhausted brains to remain alert when it is time for bed.
What can we do about it?
It is reasonable to assume that video calls are likely to be around for some time, so what can we do to help improve the situation?
Check our part two of this post, in which we look at combating the impact of video conferencing on our mental health.