The strain of video calls on your mental health

Zoom fatigue is now a thing and it is affecting many of us. Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels

My roommate attends her nephew’s naming ceremony over Zoom. His cherubic face greets her from behind the screen of the phone. Getting a picture of a newborn is no novelty but it feels different. She knows she can’t see him just yet. The choice to take to the road and arrive home to cradle him in her hands is not hers to make anymore.

COVID-19 has separated families, lovers, and friends. All over the world people are trying to stay connected with those they care about. Technology saves the day every time.

Video calls show semblances of familiar faces. Text messages replace conversations we would have had in close quarters. Long idle conversation lingers over a meal eaten alone. Events are attended by virtual participants.

A while back, people were advised to spend less time on their devices and more time connecting with the people and the world around them. Now it seems that the only way to stay safe and connected is through the distracting technology we were warned against.

Keeping up appearances

Video calls have become increasingly popular. Zoom users rose to over 200 million. Whatsapp made updates to the video conferencing feature to let more than 8 people talk to each other at once.

But these calls are no longer a choice. We open up Skype or Zoom because these are the options that exist. We, humans, remain creatures that thrive best when surrounded by a tribe and by words we use to communicate with

These video calls are not all about seeing your family or working while talking to friends. Companies and teams have switched from board rooms to virtual platforms. Meetings must go on in a pandemic.

This is changing how we relate. We cannot risk going to work but we arrive in front of our computers, shirt buttoned up and hair combed with pajamas and bare feet. Hinting at how we are trying to balance the formality of work with the familiarity of our homes.

Of course, the occasion detects the outfit. PJs to a Whatsapp call with the significant other. Comfortable clothing for family calls on Skype and Facebook Messenger. A button-up shirt and boxers for Skype, Slack, and Zoom when presenting your reports to the team.

Making up and dressing up just to talk on the phone seemed silly not very long ago but now we google what to do on a video call. We need to keep up appearances even in the safety of our homes. To find what is right and what is not in this world connected by phones, tabs, and laptops.

Knowing what to wear and what not to, isn’t the only strain. Video calls come with their own fix of weirdness. Working while your boss is watching you isn’t always great for productivity. Pixelated faces and bad audio that necessitates repetition is tiring. Even when the faces on the screen change and the conversations are different, the fatigue from hours spent talking does not go away.

And everyone hates the silence in video calls. It feels awkward as though one is supposed to always say something. It is unlike the feeling of companionable quiet you get as you work beside a colleague or the guy you met at the coworking space.

Creating boundaries when there are no walls

Most of us will be spending more time online. In contact with other people. This requires us to draw lines in the sand. Creating boundaries for our mental health. There is a need to have honest talks with employers. True, the walls of the company building have encroached on our homes. Now a Zoom meeting call can go on for hours with the boss yelling out instructions. Or sending out tasks late at night past the work hours and giving impossible deadlines. Thinking that hours you used to commute or hours used to go out for lunch need to be used up. Having a difficult boss will make this conversation hard but you will be able to be more productive if you work under better conditions.

Making rules about respecting your spaces also applies to the people, we love the most. Group phone calls with friends can get overwhelming and sometimes you do need to be alone. Explaining the need for boundaries even while apart is not an easy conversation to have but it is necessary.

For people who find it hard to have conversations or to pick up a phone call, changing how their lives and doing new things is not going to come so easy. But then again, it is less of a choice and more of a necessity for all of us.

Honesty will help. And a lot of scheduling. Knowing who is calling and when helps to prepare you mentally. And this one is for all of us, the video doesn’t catch us at our best angles but we need to know it’s about communication and not about looks. We all know we might not look so great in a four-way window but that’s not enough reason to throw off a client meeting or a call with loved ones.

Remember we are all compelled to connect more than ever but some ground rules are needed to keep us afloat.

Stella Inabo

Poet. Budding story writer. Aspiring spoken word artiste.

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