Zoom fatigue is a real thing. And for those of us recovering from addiction, learning to make peace with video meetings can be vital to our mental health.
My life has transformed into a series of Zoom links. During work hours, teammates pop in and out of my Zoom in lieu of stopping by a desk. After work, I sometimes only have an hour in the evening before I hop back on for a 12-step meeting.
Originally, the novelty and convenience of online support groups was thrilling — friends from different states could join meetings together, and people excitedly relayed joining international meetings at the click of a button. But as it’s become clear that there is no end in sight to social distancing, I’ve noticed and heard from others that it’s harder to focus in Zoom meetings, and they’re simply not the same as sitting yourself in a room with a bunch of other folks for support.
If you’re dreading your next Zoom meeting, you’re not alone. Several reasons have been identified as to why online recovery meetings (and online meetings in general) may be more draining than in-person connection, from staring at your own image, to the delay in communication, to the total lack of environmental context in our many, varied relationships.
Regardless of what may be causing your Zoom fatigue, here are some quick solutions to help you make your next meeting and leave feeling refreshed:
- Turn off self-view. If staring at your own face gives you anxiety, Zoom has a feature that allows you to turn off self-view while keeping your camera on so others can see you. Hiding your face can silence your inner critique and give you permission to focus on the speaker.
- Turn off the camera entirely. This may not fly for work video calls, but for social meetings like 12-step groups, try turning your video off, giving yourself permission to get comfortable, and listen. Some gender-specific meetings may ask that you have your camera on when you join, but most don’t require it to be on the full meeting.
- Give yourself time to transition. Pre-COVID, when we left work and went to visit a group of friends, or went to a meeting hall or church for a support group, the environment changed along with the type of relationship. Now, your environment is the same whether you’re in a board meeting or having a virtual game night. Give yourself a mental break when transitioning from one type of social event to another: take a walk, listen to music, play with a pet or your kids. Set a mood for your recovery or social videoconference in whatever way relaxes you, whether it’s lighting a candle, brewing yourself some tea or coffee, or sitting on your porch.
- Commit to leaving work at work. If you’re working at home, the boundaries between work life and home life can become blurred. Try to work in a designated work area, and leave it behind at the end of the day. Set your hours on company systems like Slack, and keep them off your phone. When you join a recovery meeting online, try to close other applications or notes you have left open from your workday on your computer.
- Give yourself permission to do something simple during the meeting. An online recovery meeting completed from home is as portable and accessible as a podcast or YouTube channel, so treat it that way. If you need to finish folding your laundry, turn off your camera, put on your headphones, and fold while you attend the meeting. If you need some exercise, go on a walk. Don’t feel like you have to sit and stare at the screen to get the benefits of attending a meeting — you may just be distracted by what you could be doing and find it harder to focus. Remember to choose a simple physical task, and avoid scrolling your phone or browsing the internet.
- Find a hobby that will keep your hands busy. When I asked friends how they improve their focus in Zoom meetings, several of them mentioned hobbies like needlepoint and sewing. Sensory activities can stimulate your brain in a way that allows you to focus. Try putting together a puzzle or using a fidget spinner while you listen.
- Find other ways to stay connected. Yes, meetings are vital at work and for many of us in recovery, but they’re not the only way to connect. Make a phone call to a friend, start up a weekly email or text thread with your closest recovery posse, take a video exercise class, or meet in a park or a backyard for a socially distanced picnic or chat.
Remember, we’re all living through a period of prolonged stress with serious disruptions to our regular routines. That in itself will affect our focus and productivity. In the best of times, focus can be challenging. Many of us aren’t able to give 100% right now, and that’s okay. Give what you can to your recovery, and give yourself permission to accept that as okay.