The COVID-19 pandemic made remote work an obvious step for health reasons, but not everyone found the transition to videoconferencing easy or rewarding.
While working from home might help reduce your chances of COVID-19 exposure, it creates plenty of new challenges, Zoom anxiety among them.
Even if you enjoy the opportunity to work from home and hope you don’t have to return to a crowded office or classroom anytime soon, you might be somewhat less fond of the proliferation of video calls that now seem necessary.
If you’re still not used to work-by-Zoom, even a year in, you’re far from alone. Whether you’re counting the days until Zoom meetings fade into the past or simply hoping this new normal becomes a little less awkward, these 9 strategies can help you zoom through your next meeting.
In a recent survey of 2,066 U.K. residents working from home, 73 percent reported experiencing some type of Zoom anxiety.
It’s not a huge leap to imagine workers in the United States might experience Zoom anxiety at similar levels.
In comparison to more straightforward meetings or workplace chats, video calls often seem to create potential for any number of problems, such as:
- tech issues
- difficulty interpreting other people’s gestures or tone of voice
- unexpected or back-to-back calls that interfere with your workflow
- trouble communicating ideas clearly or making yourself heard
- the possibility of a pet, child, or partner bursting into the room unannounced
Maybe you feel uncertain over where to focus your eyes to create a semblance of natural eye contact. Your anxiety might even stem from plain old public speaking anxiety — an incredibly common fear. Or, maybe you’re just really, really tired of Zoom. (We understand.)
When you feel the first twinges, sit with them and explore them instead of pushing them away.
- Your voice falls on the quiet side and you often struggle to make yourself heard. Take time to practice speaking loudly and clearly, or rehearse a confident, “I have something to add.”
- You’re concerned about tech issues. Brush up on your skills by reviewing common problems with Zoom. Solving a tech issue with an audience looking on can feel incredibly stressful, but knowing you’re prepared to troubleshoot can go a long way toward easing your stress.
Chances are, you’ve dealt with your brain’s negativity bias before, whether you realize it or not.
Negativity bias describes the human tendency to recall what goes wrong far more clearly than what goes right.
Say it’s your birthday. The weather is perfectly sunny, and everyone you invited shows up to your birthday picnic. You’re having a great time, right up until it’s time to cut your cake. As you call everyone over, a crow perched in the tree above drops an entirely unwanted addition directly onto the cake.
When you look back on this day, the ruined cake will probably be the first (and clearest) thing you remember.
The negativity bias plays a part in Zoom anxiety, too. That’s why, after video calls, you often catch yourself worrying about what you missed on those 30 seconds where you lost your connection, or fixate on the question you asked that had a completely obvious answer.
Help your brain overcome this bias by turning your thoughts to the positive moments — the point you made that your teacher seized on excitedly as a “great example,” or your co-worker emphasizing how much they appreciated your support on a recent project.
Long meetings typically aren’t the most riveting part of the workday, and working from home can create even more opportunities for distraction. When your mind drifts, being surrounded by your stuff can make it even tougher to recapture a wandering train of thought.
Maybe you hear a suspicious crash and start to worry whether your dog finally figured out how to pull the groceries off the counter? Or you belatedly remember the overflowing hamper of dirty clothes in the corner and start to worry that others noticed it, too. You might even catch yourself distracted by your video-self, wondering, “Is that really how everyone sees me?”
Mindfulness can help ease this anxiety in two key ways:
- Focusing on your Zoom call keeps your mind occupied and prevents your worries from taking over.
- Staying fully engaged in the meeting or lesson means you’ll know exactly what’s going on, so you won’t feel lost or have to scramble for an answer when someone asks what you think.
When your attention starts to drift away from the video call, gently return your awareness to what’s happening on-screen.
- Jump back in by asking a question or making a comment.
- Change your camera angle, or turn it off entirely, to avoid getting distracted by your on-screen image.
- Take notes to reduce the awkwardness of prolonged eye contact. Plus, jotting down any pressing thoughts or questions helps you remember them without disrupting your concentration.
Sitting in front of a screen all day can be pretty darn exhausting.
Video calls don’t just require brain engagement. Staying seated in the same position, gaze trained to the screen, also strains your body and your eyes. It’s absolutely normal to need a few breaks, and you may not always have the chance between meetings.
You might feel a little awkward about moving off-camera, but you shouldn’t feel guilty about taking care of your needs. After all, not taking care of yourself can leave you even more distracted and stressed. Think of it this way: If you needed to stretch your legs, grab a drink, or use the restroom during work or school, you’d probably do those things without too much concern.
Give yourself permission to:
- briefly turn off your camera to stand up and stretch
- rest your eyes by giving yourself a 2-minute window-gazing break
- find a more comfortable position
Just be sure to avoid “taking a break” by turning to other projects. Multitasking can lend the illusion of greater efficiency, but it usually just makes it even harder to focus.
Need some inspo? Try these 6 relaxation exercises to ease anxiety
According to inoculation theory in a
Here’s how this self-inoculation works.
First, prepare yourself for the possibility of experiencing some nervousness or anxiety during Zoom meetings:
- “A lot of people experience Zoom anxiety these days. It’s a common side effect of remote work.”
Next, outline some specific things you’re worried about:
- “I’m afraid of losing my connection and missing something important.”
- “I feel really self-conscious over videos, and I’m worried everyone will see how awkward I am.”
- “What if I misunderstand someone and say something in reply that doesn’t make any sense?”
Then, remind yourself of a few facts that challenge these worries:
- “I have a great internet connection and it doesn’t falter very often. If I do lose my connection, I can always ask someone what I missed.”
- “I won’t stand out more than anyone else.”
- “If I’m not sure what someone just said, I can always ask them to repeat it.”
Over the past year, plenty of stories about accidental unmutes during video calls — and the embarrassing predicaments that resulted — have surfaced. As you navigate working by video, don’t forget that even though you’re physically at home, you’re still at work.
Dressing for a day of telecommuting just like you would for a regular workday helps your brain switch to “work” or “school” mode. In other words, you’ll probably feel better prepared for work if you’re dressed for work (no matter how comfortable your pajamas are).
As tempting as it might be to dress for work only from the waist up, keep in mind you never know when you might have to lunge for a wayward pet or stand up for some other unexpected reason. Knowing you’re prepared to face any situation can help ease worries about camera malfunctions. It can also help boost your confidence and make it easier to stay engaged in this new and, it must be admitted, somewhat unusual professional environment.
When you find it challenging to manage Zoom anxiety, consider letting your boss know how you feel over email or with a private message.
Others might be experiencing similar challenges, but without useful feedback, managers and supervisors won’t know how to address these concerns.
For example, if several people report difficulties getting a word in, your supervisor or professor might choose to call on people in turn to make sure everyone has a chance to talk. If being called on unexpectedly makes you anxious enough that everything you wanted to say flies out of your thoughts, you might ask them to consider letting people “raise” their hands to speak instead.
Another source of Zoom anxiety might come from peer interactions. You can always ignore distracting messages from a classmate or co-worker, but if this doesn’t help, you might send a short message saying, “I’d love to talk about this more, but I’ll have to get back to you later.”
Too much Zoom is definitely a thing.
If you feel drained before your day even starts, exploring other potential options might be a good next step. You probably can’t get away from the occasional video chat, but there are other ways to communicate with co-workers — and you’ll probably be more productive when you aren’t battling Zoom fatigue.
- letting your supervisor know that frequent Zoom meetings make it difficult to maintain a steady workflow
- suggesting alternate ways of staying in touch and sharing ideas, such as a dedicated group chat or a shared live document
When you really only need to speak with one or two people, dialing the technology back a notch with a good, old-fashioned phone call can help, too. A phone call lets you focus on one specific conversation, you can get to the point and move on more quickly.
No method of communication is perfect. You can probably recall a few mix-ups and miscommunications during in-person work meetings, right?
Slip-ups happen, face-to-face and online, and you can’t always prevent (or plan for) awkward interactions.
So, maybe your toddler chooses to stroll into the room, mysteriously diaper-free, the moment your boss introduces the visiting regional manager. Or your cat, sleeping quietly behind you for most of the meeting, starts hacking up a hairball just as your co-worker begins their presentation.
Your teammates understand these things happen. It’s OK to mute yourself with a quick, “Be right back,” and go handle the situation.
When you get back, try laughing it off — humor can often transform tense moments into opportunities for bonding and camaraderie. Those moments are just another outcome of this long, unusual year, and who can’t use a good dose of laughter as life slowly trickles back toward normalcy?
Love them or hate them, Zoom meetings have become an inescapable part of daily life for many students and professionals, and they probably won’t go away anytime soon.
If you find it tough to manage your anxiety around this new aspect of workplace culture, it may be worth reaching out for professional support.
A therapist can help you explore possible causes of Zoom anxiety and offer support with addressing these triggers productively.
Crystal Raypole has previously worked as a writer and editor for GoodTherapy. Her fields of interest include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.