Psych Congress Steering Committee Member Edward Kaftarian, MD, chief executive officer of Orbit Health Telepsychiatry, Calabasas, California, discusses “Zoom fatigue” which people may be experiencing after months of remote working arrangements due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Q: The COVID-19 pandemic forced many clinicians to suddenly pivot to telepsychiatry to continue providing care to their patients. In the last few months, we have heard the term “Zoom fatigue.” What is it?
A: “Zoom fatigue” is a common name for “videoconferencing fatigue.” It refers to the exhaustion that might happen when someone is spending much of their day on videoconference calls. It’s not a DSM-5 diagnosis, just a colloquial term that gained popularity during the pandemic. People who talk about Zoom fatigue may say that it makes them feel sluggish and disinterested in their meetings.
Q: What are some of the factors that can cause Zoom fatigue?
A: Zoom fatigue might involve a combination of factors. When we stare at a computer screen all day long, this can be tiring. Unfortunately, regardless of whether we do our work virtually from home or go into an office, that is just an unavoidable reality of 21st century work. So I would not blame videoconferencing for that.
A fatigue factor that is specific to videoconferencing is the feeling of always being “on.” In other words, when people are on video, they sometimes feel like they have to be “on” or “performing” for the audience. Some people might find it tiresome to constantly pay attention to how they appear on video and how they sound on audio.
Another factor that can cause fatigue is wrestling with technical difficulties, like if the internet connection fails or our video/audio devices don’t work properly. This can be very frustrating and can drain our energy. Fortunately, these problems are preventable if you set yourself up with state-of-the-art technology and use a reliable internet service provider. It’s also helpful to have backup technology available in case of a hardware failure.
Q: Are there any misconceptions about Zoom fatigue?
A: Yes. Many people don’t realize that most of the reasons you get fatigued have nothing to do with videoconferencing. “Zoom fatigue” is not a simple matter that can be wholly attributed to the medium of videoconferencing. There are other factors involved, a lot of which are no different than what you would experience in a regular in-person work setting. These are factors involved in any work setting.
Q: Can you give some examples?
A: Sure. Regardless of whether you work from home or go to an office, doing the same thing for many hours straight can be exhausting. When taking a job shift, think about your stamina and the number of hours you can comfortably do.
The nature of the work makes a difference. Just like anything else in life, if you are doing something that is interesting to you, it will give you energy, you will have fun, and time will fly. I enjoy being a psychiatrist and seeing patients. I find conversing with a patient about their issues and providing education to be an engaging and enjoyable experience.
By contrast, if I was doing something boring, like sitting through a daylong board meeting, I would feel fatigue. So if you feel fatigued by your job, it might not be “Zoom fatigue;” it might be other factors that need to be addressed about the nature of your job requirements.
Q: So what can we do to lessen the experience of fatigue?
A: I recommend that you take frequent short breaks from your computer in between some of your patient sessions, as mutually agreed upon by the clinic you are serving. Go get a snack, get some fresh air outside, and clear your mind. Some light exercise during your breaks is very helpful. Taking 5 minutes to do some jumping jacks, sit-ups, and/or push-ups can be very refreshing, and you don’t need to go far from your office to do it.
Also, once you have established yourself within the frame of the camera, turn off your self-view so that you are not preoccupied and distracted by your own appearance. You can check yourself periodically to make sure that you are still properly centered in the frame of the camera.
Q: Do you think that Zoom fatigue means that telecommuting is not as good as going to work the old-fashioned way, meaning going onsite?
A: Working from home is not inferior to working onsite. Don’t just take my word for it; ask anyone who has done telepsychiatry for years. Almost all of them will say that it has improved their lives significantly. They will say it gives them a great work-life balance. They can create an ideal professional workspace with all the comforts of home at their fingertips. They get the best of both worlds.
Also, keep in mind that spending time in traffic going to and from work can be very fatiguing. Also, the way you take breaks at work may be less refreshing than what is available when you are in your house.
Q: What about your mindset? Could this affect Zoom fatigue?
A: Absolutely. Just like everything in life, how you frame your situation makes a huge difference in your happiness. An advantage that telepsychiatry providers had prior to COVID-19 was that they chose to work from home on their terms, setting their own schedule, and doing exactly the kind of work they want to do. However, with the pandemic, many people are forced to stay home. The fact that the decision was made for them and not in their control is a factor for job satisfaction.
Having a positive mindset about the virtues of virtual care is a good way to avoid Zoom fatigue. Think about all the ways telepsychiatry empowers you to care for patients on your own terms and this will go a long way toward greater telework job satisfaction.
For more information about Zoom fatigue or other topics related to telepsychiatry, go to https://www.orbithealth.com/blog/.
Edward Kaftarian, MD, is chairman and chief executive officer of Orbit Health Telepsychiatry, a company that provides telepsychiatry services to jails and prisons, and a member of the Psych Congress Steering Committee. He is a nationally recognized psychiatrist and leader in the field of telepsychiatry and healthcare technology. Trained at the world-renowned Johns Hopkins Hospital, Dr. Kaftarian is board-certified in psychiatry, forensic psychiatry, and addiction medicine. He has served in a variety of executive roles within the California prison system, including chief psychiatrist, senior psychiatrist, medical director, and director of pharmacy. He is also the founder of California’s statewide prison telepsychiatry program, which is the largest correctional telepsychiatry program in the world.Dr. Kaftarian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.