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Here’s Why You Might Feel Tired After a Video Call

An exhausted man resting his head on his arms in front of his computer during a video call.
Girts Ragelis/Shutterstock

On an average day, working and socializing can make you tired. When work and social events are all happening via video calls, you’re likely to end up even more exhausted, and here’s why.

Our brains have adapted to respond to in-person experiences. Video often seems like a reasonable reproduction of those, but, to our brains, video is very different from the three-dimensional world. Coping with that difference can leave you unusually tired.

If you find yourself worn out after every video chat or conference, it’s not just you—it’s a common brain response. Let’s take a look at the reasons behind this, and how you can help your brain cope.

The Science Behind Video-Call Fatigue

Human communication has been shaped over many years of evolution. We’ve adapted to use not only speech, but also facial expressions and body language to send signals to others. We’ve also adapted to read those same cues from other people.

However, these skills were designed for in-person use. Video conversations flatten out nuanced, three-dimensional cues, and shrink them down to fit on a screen. To get and give the same amount of visual information, our brain suddenly has to work a lot harder.

For many people, understanding nonverbal cues during an in-person conversation feels natural. It’s something we gradually develop as we grow up, not a skill we learn in school. You probably don’t have to consciously think about reading someone’s body language.

However, video calls erase that ease. You have to watch every tiny face on the screen very carefully to figure out unspoken cues. If the video is delayed or grainy, this is even more difficult. You’re also listening more carefully to hear words that might not be coming through clearly.

The more people there are on the screen, the more you’ll get thrown off. Your brain isn’t designed to understand so many different facial expressions at once. Plus, with more people and fewer visual cues, you might have a harder time figuring out when to jump in to the conversation. You might even be worried about how your own face looks on-screen.

In short, video calls stimulate your brain in ways it’s not designed to handle. It’s tempting to think seeing people on video will make communication clearer and easier. For your brain, though, it’s actually more difficult than a simple phone call. That’s why you might feel like you need a nap at the end of every video chat.

Of course, simply living during a pandemic is stressful enough. Even if you’ve had lots of prior practice with video calls, the main cause of the stress and fear is enough to wear most people out.

How to Make Video Chats Less Exhausting

A man on a video call with four people on his laptop.

All of this doesn’t mean video calls are inherently bad. They’ve enabled almost all of us to keep working and connecting with loved ones during the pandemic, which is nothing short of revolutionary. However, this doesn’t eliminate the challenge they give our brains.

Since your life might now involve far more video chatting than it once did, here are some ways to make it less taxing.

Turn Down Some Social Invites

If you’re trying to re-create your pre-pandemic social life in video form, you’re probably wearing yourself out. A video hangout will often leave you tired, whereas an in-person hangout usually makes you feel refreshed. With that in mind, consider turning down a few more social invites than usual.

On top of the ordinary ways video calls tire your brain, there’s also the fact that sitting in front of a screen sometimes just feels like work. If you need a break, tell your friends or family you can’t make it this time, and log off. Spend that time on a three-dimensional activity, like taking a walk or reading a book.

By reducing the number of social video calls you participate in, you’ll find you have more energy for those you do commit to. If you can, you might even want to reduce the number of work-related video calls you’re on, as well. This way, those you do participate in will get your full attention.

Take More Frequent Breaks

If you can’t cut back on video calls, make sure you work in some break time between each one. This gives your brain time to recharge. Breaks can be especially important between work and personal calls so you have time to switch from work to relaxation mode.

Turn Your Screen to the Side

Some experts suggest arranging your screen so it’s to one side, rather than facing you straight on. This might help remind your brain you’re not in the same room with all these faces you’re seeing simultaneously.

Try Different Locations

Moving to different rooms in your home might also make video calls easier. For example, you could designate one area for work calls and another for personal chats. This will divide your day in a way that feels more like your normal routine.

If you don’t like the way you look on camera, try areas with different lighting. Chatting in a brighter or dimmer room, or moving light sources around, might make you feel more confident about your on-screen appearance.

While there’s no way to make video calls feel as natural as an in-person conversation, these tips might make them a bit less exhausting. If you’re still struggling, though, don’t hesitate to bring up your concerns with your boss or friends. Discussing it might help you all find a solution that works for everyone.

Elyse Hauser Elyse Hauser
Elyse Hauser is a freelance and creative writer from the Pacific Northwest, and an MFA student at the University of New Orleans Creative Writing Workshop. She specializes in lifestyle writing and creative nonfiction. Read Full Bio »
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