Zoom burnout: why it's OK to say no to video calls even if you have nowhere better to be

We are Zooming for work, to catch-up with friends and family, even to workout. How much video calling is too much?

The logo for the Zoom Video Communications Inc. application is displayed on an Apple Inc. laptop computer in an arranged photograph taken in the Brooklyn borough of New York, U.S., on Friday, April 10, 2020. Zoom's shares have soared in 2020 as the popularity of its video conferencing service has grown during a time of widespread lockdowns aimed at stemming the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. Photographer: Gabby Jones/Bloomberg
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Chances are, over the past few weeks, you will have been part of a Zoom call.

For colleagues and students around the world, it's been a way to have meetings, to learn, and to continue daily commitments without too much disruption.

And for friends, family members and partners separated due to social distancing measures, it’s been a lifeline.

But sometimes, there can be too much of a good thing.

At first it was novel, a way to catch-up, to speak to all your friends at once, even to host your own virtual pub quizzes and dinner parties. But a month down the line, the novelty might be starting to wear off. Back-to-back Zoom meetings at work and multiple lessons a week are seeing people spend hours video calling.

And then, when work’s done, we do it all over again in the name of socialising.

We are inviting people into our personal space, and subconsciously this can feel like an invasion of our privacy

Usually, when you are making social plans, you have to make a few considerations before committing to an event. Do I have work the next day? Did I book in for that gym class in the morning? Will I get stuck in traffic on my commute home? Chances are, on top of a busy working schedule and your usual weekly commitments, you might only go out on a school night on the odd occasion.

Back then, it was easy to turn down an invitation. Everyone had a valid excuse.

But now, when someone is inviting you to join a five-way video call or virtual quiz every night of the week, the usual go-to list of excuses has suddenly disappeared. The truth is, many of us don’t have anywhere better to be, and everyone knows it.

But just because many of us are at home doesn’t mean we need to be socialising every night. You wouldn’t do it in ordinary life, so you don’t have to now either. While it is important to maintain social contact, especially if you are isolating alone, you still need time to relax after a busy working day.

You are entitled to an evening to yourself, even if that only means moving from the dining room table to the sofa.

“Spending hours on any task can become stressful and tiring, especially when we are glued to our screens and are surrounded by pressure and uncertainty. Many of us have shifted our usual work online and have had to adjust to a completely new way of working,” says Asma HIlal Lootah, founder of The Hundred Wellness Centre.

And this shift has also brought the office into our home environment, a place usually associated with relaxation and winding down. If you’ve spent the day at the kitchen table having stressful work meetings, then return a couple of hours later to eat your dinner, it can feel like a continuation of your working day.

DUBAI , UNITED ARAB EMIRATES – July 6 , 2015 : Asma Hilal Lootah , Founder of the Hundred Wellness Centre at the Jumeirah in Dubai. ( Pawan Singh / The National ) For News. Story by Caline Malek
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Asma Hilal Lootah. Pawan Singh / The National

“Now, meetings that would have been held within a professional environment, are taking place in our homes through video calls. We are inviting people into our personal space, and subconsciously this can feel like an invasion of our privacy. Many people like to keep their home lives and their work lives separate; we have different roles and responsibilities in each, so it can be uncomfortable when our two worlds collide.”

Why socialising on Zoom can cause anxiety 

Using Zoom to socialise could just be adding to the burnout. It means turning the computer back on and committing to more screen time.

And as great is Zoom is for keeping in touch with you friends and family members, it’s not the same as seeing them face-to-face. Zoom comes with its own cache of technical problems and awkward pauses and delays, and sometimes, it can be much harder to pick up on social cues through a screen than it would be in real life.

This is something that can trigger anxiety in some people.

"Video chats mean we need to work harder to process non-verbal cues like facial expressions, the tone and pitch of the voice, and body language; paying more attention to these consumes a lot of energy," Gianpiero Petriglieri, an associate professor at Insead, told the BBC.

Ben Mulcahy, founder of Darlinghurst Life Drawing studio, organises a life drawing class for art students over a Zoom internet livestream due to social gathering restrictions implemented to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at Darlinghurst Life Drawing studio in Sydney, Australia, April 16, 2020. Picture taken April 16, 2020.  REUTERS/Loren Elliott
Zoom is now being used to work and socialise around the world Reuters

“Video calls and adjusting to our new ways of working and socialising can trigger anxiety,” says Lootah.

It is important to establish healthy boundaries within our homes for our own peace of mind, Lootah says, and if that means saying no to a Zoom catch up, even if you have no other plans, then you should allow yourself to do so.

“We must learn to say no and to let go of any feelings of guilt for stating what works for you and what doesn’t,” she says. “When we simply say what we can do and what we can’t, we subconsciously allow others to do the same, which in turn, helps us find the best way of working or collaborating with them. It is OK to put yourself first.”

A very simple tip ... 

One suggestion for those suffering video-call fatigue is to go 'audio only' for some calls: just sit back, close your eyes and chat to your friends. That way, you won't have to stare at your screen, and delays in video streaming won't make you confused about social cues.

Turns out a good old phone call might be just what the doctor ordered.