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Why Zoom Meetings Are Bad for Your Health and How to Fix It


by Natasha Tracy - June 29, 2020


Why Zoom Meetings Are Bad for Your Health and How to Fix It

Zoom meetings became the norm overnight when shelter-in-place orders came down in state after state and country after country due to the novel coronavirus. Zoom became the most useful tool for connecting with others for work meetings, classes, and even social meetups. Considering Zoom meetings are just your coworkers, classmates, or friends on the screen instead of in-person, no one likely thought of the health impacts of Zoom meetings. But now that we’ve all been ensconced in Zoom meetings for months, is it finally time to look at their health effects?

What Are Zoom Meetings?

“Zoom” might be one of the words of 2020. Many people hadn’t heard of the company or the tool before 2020. And while Zoom has several major competitors (such as Microsoft’s Skype and Apple’s FaceTime), most recently, it has come out on top.

Zoom is simply a piece of software that groups of people can use to talk with each other online. It’s like people being in a virtual meeting room.

For example, a supervisor schedules a meeting and then sends out meeting invitation to five coworkers. The invitation contains a web link. When the supervisor starts the meeting, her coworkers can join the meeting using the link and then they can all see and talk to each other using their computers’ webcams and microphones. There are additional features like a virtual whiteboard and a way to share what’s on your computer screen along with many others.

Why People Like Zoom Meetings

People like Zoom meetings because they really fill a niche – co workers (or even friends) need to talk to each other and this is an easy way to do it. Zoom meetings feel more personal than phone calls as you can see all the people in the meeting. Increased interaction in Zoom meetings also means that they are more useful in a work setting.

Other positives about Zoom meetings include:

• The (optional) existence of a recording of what is being said and done

• A narrowing of people’s focus to the discussion at hand (although this, too, can be challenging when distractions in the home arise)

Unfortunately, there are downsides to Zoom meetings too, most of which no one ever thought of before Zoom became so ubiquitous at work.

Zoom Meetings and Physical Pain

Due to people being stuck in their homes, people are looking at their computer screens more than ever for Zoom meetings and everything else. In fact, many offsite workers have hours of Zoom meetings per day. And if one is going to sit in front a computer screen all day, ergonomics is very important. Unfortunately, this is something that employers tend to take into consideration when assigning workstations and office chairs, but it’s something that few individuals take into consideration in their own homes. Many people who have ended up working from home are unprepared to do so and have been working on their couch or at their kitchen table.

These environments are not designed for office work and thus have bad ergonomics.

Ergonomics is defined as, “the scientific discipline concerned with the understanding of the interactions among human and other elements of a system, and the profession that applies theory, principles, data and methods to design in order to optimize human well-being and overall system performance.”

The effects of bad ergonomics build up over time and backaches, neckaches and headaches, including migraines, are now all too common.

Other physical effects of Zoom meetings include:

• Sleep disruption – the additional blue-light intake, especially at night, can cause sleep disruption which can even contribute to depression of the immune system.

• Greater amounts of sedentary behavior – because people aren’t even getting up to see their collogues in other office, great sedentary behavior may be present. This can contribute to weight gain, cardiovascular issues, diabetes, and high blood pressure.

• Eye strain – increases in screen time for personal and professional reasons can result in eye strain which can cause blurry vision and obscured sight and even ear, eye, neck, and shoulder pain.

Fatigue and Zoom Meetings

Fatigue due to Zoom meetings may also be physical, but it deserves special consideration as people are finding it hampering on a daily basis. For example, you might have Zoom calls for work, and then deal with a virtual classroom for your child, and then Skype your friends at night. All day long you’ve got to “show up” somewhere but you’re not really showing up anywhere and this in and of itself is draining.

Zoom fatigue is defined by USA Today as “the feeling of tiredness, anxiousness or worry with yet another video call.”

There are many aspects of Zoom meetings that contribute to fatigue. They include having to focus on a screenful of people at a time and worrying about how you appear as you speak. These things are intensified in the online environment and thus require more mental energy than similar concerns in an in-person environment would according to Vaile Wright, the American Psychological Association's director of clinical research and quality as told to USA Today. She sums it up by saying that “it’s this pressure to really be on and be responsive.”

Additionally, it is unnatural to be close to an enlarged version of a person’s face for an hour at a time. We’re constantly trying to be present and attentive, communicate effectively, and read the other person’s communication efforts all through the filter of an online lens, and this is a lot of work and very tiring. Our brains have evolved to read much of this through body language that is obviously not available in Zoom meetings.

Mental Health Effects of Zoom Meetings

Anyone who has sat through more than a few minutes of online meetings knows something: it’s awful looking at your reflection on the computer constantly. While we may continue to look the same, the way we perceive how we look may be affected. We tend to be self-conscious and critical of our appearance. And while studies on Zoom meetings haven’t been done yet, what has been done is research on staring into one’s reflection in the mirror. One study had “healthy, young adults” stare in a mirror in low lighting, and after a minute, 66 percent of them reported seeing “huge deformations” in their faces. If this is what happens after only one minute, after hours of Zoom calls, it’s understandable that this feeling may occur or even be magnified.

How to Make Zoom Meetings Better for Your Health

Fixing the negative health effects that Zoom can have likely requires a change of environment and a change of mind.

First, consider your at-home workspace. If you’re going to be doing lots of Zoom meetings, where you take those meetings is important. One definitely needs a dedicated space for work if at all possible. It’s much better to work in a room that you can close the door on and walk away from when you’re done than on the kitchen table, for example, that has other myriad of uses. This allows you to define a work zone and when you’re in the zone you can psychologically switch over to work and when you’re not, you can leave it behind and clear your mind of work concerns.

Additionally, the Ergonomics Faculty at UC Berkley University also suggest:

• Use a separate keyboard, mouse, and monitor (a laptop on a stand or books can work instead of a separate monitor) and set it up with ergonomics in mind (see below).

• Use a chair with low-back support (a rolled-up towel can work) and a cushion.

• Use a speakerphone and don’t prop the phone up between your shoulder and ear.

• Don’t eat at your computer, again to reinforce that space as being for work only.

• Use natural lighting, if possible, with the monitor turned perpendicular to the window to reduce glare. The monitor should be the brightest thing in the space, however.

• Drink lots of water consistently throughout the day.

• Take breaks to move your body every half hour.

For an ideal workstation that you can work at for long periods of time, many ergonomic factors should be taken into consideration. These factors are critical if you want to make Zoom meetings less harmful to your health.

According to the University Health Services at UC Berkley, to create a healthy workstation:

• Position the top of the screen at eye level, lower for bifocal wearers; the screen should be 18-36 inches from your eyes.

• Create an angle of 105-120 degrees between your upper legs and your body.

• Make sure your forearms are parallel to the floor when using the keyboard; the mouse should be next to the keyboard.

• Make sure your knees should be at or below hip level.

• Rest your feet firmly on the floor or on a footrest.

In terms of improving Zoom’s affect on your mental health, consider a change of mind when you see that image of yourself on the screen. Try to keep it in perspective. You are much harder on yourself about how you look than anyone else on the call is going to be. That said, if it helps you, you can also create a Zoom meeting space that allows for good lighting and a flattering angle. Put the light above and in front of you and try putting the camera a little bit higher to it is angled downward slightly during calls. You can also consider just turning off your reflection during Zoom calls (others can see you, but you can’t see yourself). It’s an option for a reason.

Other options you can consider for your mental health in Zoom calls include:

• Obey the 20-20-20 rule – The American Optometric Association recommends taking 20 seconds to look at something at least 20 feet away after every 20 minutes of the screening time.

• Practice mindfulness and slow breathing – Centering yourself and keeping yourself calm both before and during the meeting will help your mental health.

• Stop multitasking on Zoom calls – Just focus on the call; that’s more than enough for your brain.

• Limit the amount of screen time you have per day, especially at night.

And finally, just limit Zoom calls altogether. Not every call has to be a Zoom call. Not only might the break from them be good from your health, but your coworkers might really appreciate that too.

Sources

Acquah, Vivian, “The Impact Of Zoom Fatigue & Digital Eye Strain.”

Thrive Global, April 16, 2020.

Environment, Health and Safety, Ergonomics. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Accessed June 14, 2020.

Faculty of Ergonomics, “ Ergonomics Tips for Working at Home.” UC Berkley, Accessed June 14, 2020.

Miller, Ryan, W., “ What's 'Zoom fatigue'? Here's why video calls can be so exhausting.” USA Today, April 23, 2020.

University Health Services, “ A User Friendly Workstation.” UC Berkley, 2016.

Weiner, Zoe, “Staring at Your Face on Zoom Is a Particular Kind of Psychological Torture – Here’s Why.” Well+Good, May 11, 2020.


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