Five Tips to Fight ZOOM Fatigue, Neck Pain & Brain Drain

Know anyone zooming to classes for hours on end (like a college student, friend or family member complaining about Zoom Fatigue?) Please share these easy five tips!

ZOOM FATIGUE is for real, not an “in your head” kind of thing. As opposed to in person classes or meetings, your attention (or at least the appearance of your attention) is NONSTOP, making you much more mentally drained than “real life.” So what can you do?

1. Step number one, stop looking at yourself! No joke, we are unconsciously drawn to our own face, so your brain keeps trying to focus on your enticing visage while you should be focusing on the speaker.
EASY FIX? Simply right click on the video, and choose “Hide self”.

2. Avoid scrutinizing others. Be aware that at least part of our brains start focusing not only on other faces, but on deciphering the background objects behind them. What to do? Whenever possible, maximize the speaker and minimize everyone else.

Note to instructors: consider offering a 5 minute “face break” mid lecture where you have everyone turn off their video. This will REFRESH their focus on your content when you instruct them to turn their videos back on!

3. Eliminate distractions. You THINK you can multitask and run through emails, social media, etc. while listening and fully absorbing the lecture content, but this is a big part of zoom fatigue! Your brain is working hard to go back and forth, trying to catch up on what it missed from the speaker or that last work email. Shout out to college students: remember you are actually paying to be in class and learn, so seriously, view your laptop screen with as much attention you would give in a small lecture setting (where the professor can see who is playing on their phone and call you out.) FIX: Close out open tabs on your screen besides zoom and necessary class supplements, and commit your full attention to class. Consider deleting games from your phone (move them to your tablet, if that’s a choice), physically put your Switch out of sight/reach, and only use your phone to text a classmate a comment or question as you would in person.

4. Pamper your eyes! We blink far less than normal when fixating on screens (and especially if you are looking at multiple screens) so our eyes dry out. Solutions (yes, pun intended): Try to alternate using glasses instead of contacts if you need prescription vision correction. Whether you need glasses/contacts or not, try  applying rehydrating eye drops  between classes (NOT “get the red out” ones, but moisturizing artificial tear-style  products within brands like Refresh, Systane, Blink or Thera Tears) remembering to sanitize and air dry your hands before using. For extra dry eyes, consider a 5 minute eye break by using a product like Refresh Celluvisc gel- note that this will blur your vision for a bit, so don’t apply at the start of a class. (If you wear contacts, talk with your doctor about specific products and timing of application, because you can only use basic rewetting/moisturizing drops when your contacts are in place.)

5. MOVE between classes. Our laptops in particular tend to supernaturally suck our bodies into an exaggerated, shoulders-to-ears, hunchbacked, C-shaped slouch. Answer: Every single solitary break, make yourself get up out of your chair, couch or bed, actually walk around, grab some water or a snack, and stretch, stretch, STRETCH.

Bonus instructor note: Avoid the ten-till-the-hour Apple Watch synchronized classroom wrist buzz (which alerts watch-wearers they must start moving to get credit towards their hourly movement to close their move ring) by randomly throwing in a couple 60 second physical activity breaks when you notice attention drifting off during your lectures. Consider setting your own timer to buzz every 20 minutes to remind you to initiate these movement/stretch breaks!

This painful super-scrunch posture is an old problem (formerly known as campus text-neck) with an amplified kick from extended screen use. “Laptops and constant texting create an unnatural forced neck flexion that can increase the effective weight of your head from nearly 10 lbs at a neutral position to a shocking 60 lbs at 60 degrees of flexion.” This constant flexion weakens your neck and back (especially trapezius and rhomboid) muscles, worsening your head-forward posture, which further strains your muscles and creates a negative loop. Treatment starts with stretching and strengthening exercises, but that will only be a bandaid if you don’t fix the PROBLEM- the ergonomic dysfunction from the abnormal laptop posture.

A Few More Tips from  The ULTIMATE College Student Health Handbook:

  • Avoid lying flat on your back with your head propped by pillows or the headboard; instead, use a laptop pillow/desk if you are going to work while on your bed.
  • If you primarily use your laptop on a desk or table, get a portable keyboard so you can position your laptop to line up your eyes level with the screen (by placing on top of a few stacked books), but keeping your keyboard lower so your arms are relaxed at your side and elbows bent comfortably around 90 degrees (which may require you raising your desk chair or sitting on a pillow.)
  • While on your laptop, set an alarm for at least every hour, and take 30-60 seconds to stand up and gently stretch your neck left (hold for 10 seconds) and right (repeat the hold), then put your arms/shoulders through gentle range of motion stretches too.
  • Texting or browsing your social media while sitting or walking? Raise the phone up to your eye level, rather than bending your head forward.
  • Neck pain often responds well to massage; this is the perfect excuse to check out any discounted massage services your university may offer (of course, remembering to wear your mask).

BOTTOM LINE: Try these practical tips to minimize your college student Zooming Fatigue, neck pain AND brain-drain!

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