As tele-health becomes more prevalent in the delivery of behavioral health services during this ongoing pandemic, tomorrow’s new normal will be much more virtual than yesterdays. Even after the pandemic, services will be a combination of tele-health and in-person.
Behavioral health clinicians, now operating screen-to-screen rather than face-to-face, realized they needed guidance on engagement, assessment, intervention, and the legal and ethical considerations necessary when setting up and implementing tele-behavioral health. However, they did not foresee the hidden dangers of "Zoom Fatigue".
The COVID-19 pandemic affected and continues to affect everyone. Virtual interaction has skyrocketed, with hundreds of millions happening daily as social distancing protocols have kept people apart physically. Though they may have experienced the lockdowns differently from the business community or even their clients, as tele-behavioral health became more ubiquitous, clinicians, too, suddenly found themselves online all day. They unknowingly began to suffer from “Zoom fatigue” and emotional stress.
Stanford University Study
Communication Professor Jeremy Bailenson, founding director of the Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab examined the psychological consequences of spending hours per day on these platforms. "Videoconferencing is a good thing for remote communication, but just think about the medium..." Bailenson said. Below are four primary reasons why video chats fatigue humans, according to the study.
1) Excessive amounts of close-up eye contact is highly intense.
Both the amount of eye contact we engage in on video chats, as well as the size of faces on screens is unnatural. In a normal meeting, people will variously be looking at the speaker, taking notes, or looking elsewhere. But on Zoom calls, everyone is looking at everyone all the time. The amount of eye contact is dramatically increased. "In general, if it's a one-on-one conversation, you're seeing their face at a size which simulates the personal space you normally experience when you're with someone intimately, " Bailenson said. "What's happening, in effect, when you're using Zoom for many, many hours, is you are in this hyper-aroused state."
2) Seeing yourself during video chats constantly in real-time is fatiguing.
Most video platforms show a square of what you look like on camera during a chat. That is also unnatural, Bailenson said. “In the real world, if somebody was following you around with a mirror constantly – so that while you were talking to people, making decisions, giving feedback, getting feedback – you were seeing yourself in a mirror, that would just be crazy. No one would ever consider that,” he added.
3) Video chats dramatically reduce our usual mobility.
Most cameras have a set field of view, meaning a person has to generally stay in the same spot. Movement is limited in ways that are not natural. "There's growing research that says when people are moving, they are performing better cognitively," Bailenson said.
4) The cognitive load is much higher in video chats.
Bailenson notes that in regular face-to-face interaction, nonverbal communication is quite natural, and each of us naturally makes and interprets gestures and nonverbal cues subconsciously. In video chats, however, we have to work harder to send and receive signals. "You've got to make sure that your head is framed within the center of the video. If you want to show someone that you are agreeing with them, you have to do an exaggerated nod or put your thumbs up. That adds cognitive load as you're using mental calories in order to communicate."
If you are a behavioral health clinician and are experiencing excessive fatigue and anxiety as you provide tele-health services during this prolonged pandemic, you are not alone. Professor Bailenson offers helpful suggestions on ways to relieve some of the stress imposed by the unnatural conditions you find yourself laboring under. Click on this link to read the entire article: