Scientific explanation behind virtual fatigue and ways to combat it

Posted at 2:59 PM, May 06, 2020

Video conferencing is a way to stay connected to our coworkers, family and friends, but have you found you’re more exhausted after video chatting all day? There's actually a scientific explanation behind this virtual fatigue.

"We’re all a little bit stressed. What that means is our bodies are producing more cortisol. That’s the stress hormone," explained Cynthia Erickson, Metropolitan State University of Denver assistant professor of psychology.

Erickson says while we’re in these video conferences, most of us are trying to multitask.

"Instead of doing two things at once, what we’re actually doing is we’re task switching. So, we’re switching from one task to another. Every time we switch tasks, it takes a minute to get oriented, and that’s also exhausting," said Erickson.

It’s not just the work calls that are affecting us. Erickson says even the calls with our loved ones can have two consequences.

"One, they’re not the same as an interpersonal conversation where we might reach out and touch someone. But, also, they remind us of what we don’t have," said Erickson.

And by not touching our loved ones, we’re not getting as much oxytocin, or the feel-good hormone.

"For the most part, many of these things are reversible, so as long as you get a good night’s sleep, that’s something that’s reversible for many things. Some of them are temporary," said Erickson.

The structure of our day has changed for the most part. Many of us aren’t commuting, we’re maybe not spending as much time getting ready for work. We’re just waking up and jumping in, which doesn't leave much time for ourselves.

"I think it’s really important to think, ‘Okay, what can I do to get fresh air? What can I do to connect with other people? What can I do to get exercise?'," Erickson said. "But we know that we do need sunlight. We do need other people. These things are all really critical for our normal well-being."

And while we’re in the Zoom or video calls, she says to focus on one thing at a time.

"Even though it’s really tempting to multitask, because we have all these computers and all these screens, we have all this information, try to uni-task. So, instead of being a good multitasker, be a good uni-tasker," suggested Erickson.

She says the blue lights from our screens turn off the production of melatonin, or the sleep hormone, in the brain, making it more difficult to fall asleep. So, if you have to use them close to bedtime, Erickson suggests adjusting the settings to a more yellow light.