Anna Schultz-Girl On Computer Stress

Overcoming Zoom Anxiety

Anyone who has participated in a class over Zoom knows that it is nothing like being in person. If Zoom school were the same quality as in-person learning, we would have done this years ago regardless of a global pandemic. For some people, including myself, online learning via Zoom has been detrimental to my academic performance and mental health. While I struggle with day-to-day anxiety, my Zoom classes and meetings create a new kind of stress: “Zoom anxiety.”

The idea of Zoom anxiety developed relatively quickly as nearly all aspects of our life went virtual. Psychologists realized that virtual interactions were more stressful because we are unable to pick on regular body language and communication cues. In our face-to-face interactions, we make eye contact, shift our body, make hand movements, and turn our head to look at others. These movements help guide conversations and make it easier to communicate. 

Without nonverbal communication, we have to try harder to express our thoughts and emotions. Especially because it is harder to see on a screen, people may over exaggerate their expressions. I find myself smiling more because I have become more aware of my RBF. I have seen classmates nod more (to the point that it’s almost distracting). Other suggestions include mirroring others’ body language, making eye contact with your camera, or using small gestures. On the other side of that, psychiatrists think that we also put more effort and focus into reading others’ nonverbal cues and facial expressions. Essentially, you are using twice as much energy whether you are listening or speaking.

Lastly, your own face is a distraction to yourself. In class, you can not see what you look like all the time, and you probably do not worry about your appearance during the entire class. Now, everyone can see you all the time and every little movement feels like a huge distraction. You might also feel self-conscious about how you look, especially if you have not seen many people face-to-face in a while.

Woman in front of laptop with mask on Photo by Edward Jenner from Pexels

The good news is that you are not alone. I am still trying to figure out how to make Zoom school and life feel a little normal. When my Zoom anxiety starts to inhibit my class or overwhelm me, I turn my camera off if my professor allows it. Doing so helps me feel like I can fidget more and relax my muscles. If my professor does not allow us to have our camera off, I take a couple of slow breaths and try to relax my body. Although some people suggest getting dressed to make Zoom feel more real, wearing a sweatshirt makes me feel comforted and helps hide my body whether I am tense or relaxed.

Additionally, I try to participate in the chat, rather than out loud. By utilizing the chat, you do not have to worry about trying to read nonverbal cues to determine who will speak next nor will the entire class look at your awkward Zoom screen when you speak. If you are required to speak out loud, try looking to see if anyone is looking at the bottom corner of their screen where the microphone button is– you might be able to tell if someone is about to unmute. You can also leave the participants tab open so you can see if hands are raised or microphones or unmuted.

Whether you feel anxious every time you log onto Zoom or you have only felt this way a few times, Zoom anxiety is a perfectly reasonable response to the state of the world right now. We are all stressed about people dying, new social rules that seem to change every week, and our futures. It is okay to feel anxious about being online every waking minute or trying to pretend that Zoom school is worthwhile. Take some deep breaths, make time for yourself, and remember that we are all in this together.

Sources: 1, 2, 3

Photos: Her Campus Media