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Zoomed out? Here are tips for recharging

By Lorenzo Spaccarelli ’24
Powell Scholar, Humanities Scholar, history major

COVID has forced us all to make sacrifices. For college students like us, that sacrifice is a normal semester of in-person classes on campus. Instead, we students are forced to spend nearly all of our time in front of a screen, trying to effectively absorb information from professors and peers for hours on end. This has led to massive exhaustion on the part of both students and faculty at Pacific, and it is a continual struggle to stay aware and focused.

Zoom has taken a huge part of our lives. Every class and extracurricular activity we have occurs over Zoom or a similar video conferencing app. We have been working primarily via Zoom for seven months now, and, if campus does not reopen in the spring, we could be on Zoom for seven more. But every hour we spend on Zoom takes a toll on our energy, far more than an in-person class would. Why is this? And what can we do to avoid this energy drain?

Zoom exhaustion or Zoom fatigue has several causes. First, there is the reduction or elimination of non-verbal communication. Understanding body language via Zoom is nearly impossible, and reading facial expressions, especially when in gallery mode, is almost as difficult. However, your mind attempts to process these non-verbal messages anyway and largely fails, which drains your energy. Other, more minor details also frustrate and confuse the mind. Seeing yourself speak on Zoom, along with the many accidental interruptions and delays that occur during a Zoom conversation, are mental struggles. As the group gets larger, Zoom simply becomes more tiresome.

So, what can you do about it? A good question. But the answer isn’t as complicated as you might think. First, you should minimize the amount of time you spend in gallery mode. Gallery mode tells the brain to split its focus among all the people in the room, which leads to distraction and fatigue. Speaker mode focuses on the single person that you are speaking to, which not only is easier, but is also far more natural. After all, most conversations, even if they are occurring in a room full of people, are primarily between a couple of people. Speaker mode allows you to focus on a single person, the person who is most important in that moment.

Next, you should avoid the urge to multitask. Multitasking just leads to distraction and confusion later when you refocus on Zoom. Incorporating breaks is also critical. As students, we don’t have a ton of freedom to choose how much time we have in between classes, but even if you have only 10 minutes, purposefully get up and move around a little or go grab a drink. This gives the brain a break from staring at a screen and helps rejuvenate you before the next Zoom call.

For now, we are stuck with this imperfect solution. But it is important to recognize the value of this amazing digital technology that we have. Without it, classes would be nearly impossible. We all must find ways to cope with the struggles of pandemic life and dealing with Zoom fatigue is a big part of that.

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