Protect your mental health while on Zoom
Flashback to November 2018 and I’d been using Zoom regularly for my health coach training as well as seeing clients. It was not unusual for me to come out of one Zoom session and go straight into another for five or six hours on the go.
I started to experience disturbed sleep, a lack of ability to focus, low mood and fatigue. In short, I was a little bit ‘wired’. I noticed that I felt much better on days when I was training or mediating all day, when I wasn’t in any online meetings.
I started to suspect that it was the back-to-back online meetings that were not helping and put in place some boundaries and strategies. Thankfully, they helped and my issues resolved within a few weeks of making these changes.
Over the past two years, I’ve worked hard at noticing what works and what creates stress with online meetings. So, I thought it might be helpful to share some of the things I’ve learned the hard way, so you don’t have to. I’ve only got experience of Zoom but the lessons are equally applicable to Teams or any other video-conferencing app you’re using for work right now.
Avoid scheduling Zoom meetings back-to-back
You’ve probably noticed by now how efficient on-line meetings are. It is possible to schedule Zoom meetings back-to-back and I’m hearing from my coaching clients, friends and family that this is happening a lot. However, to protect your mental health while on Zoom, please avoid this temptation. It’s totally draining and over time this becomes accumulative and can even start to affect sleep patterns and overall health.
Zoom meetings are more intense and more demanding than face to face meetings. Anyone who has spent more than a couple of hours in on-line meetings knows this, but it’s worth stating that it’s not you, they really do take more energy and focus. There are fewer visual cues than in real life, so our brains have to work harder.
Also, when we meet in person, there’s usually a transition time as we travel from one meeting to another, or at the very least from one meeting room to another. This is not automatic when using video-conferencing.
Take charge and create a buffer
In the interests of self-care and to protect your mental health while on Zoom, I want to encourage all of us to allow ourselves a minimum 15minutes, ideally 20-30 minutes to get away from the screen and do something else – make a cuppa, go for a 10 minute walk, do some squats! This also allows a buffer for those inevitable moments when the internet says your connection is unstable, or the meeting simply runs over.
I’d love to see a Zoom culture emerging where there’s a shift from meetings on the hour or half hour to more random times. “Please can we meet at 2.20pm as I’ve got another meeting that doesn’t finish until 2.05pm?!”. Yes, it might make scheduling a little more complex, and yes I believe it’s worth it to protect our mental wellbeing.
Although more people are becoming literate in using video conferencing, it’s still a relatively new space for most people. In many ways, video-conference meetings are their own micro-culture. Anyone who has lived in another country knows how tiring those first 3 months are before you find your feet and really feel at ease in the new culture.
When we meet in person, there's usually a transition time as we travel from one meeting to another, or at the very least from one meeting room to another. I'd love to see a Zoom culture emerging where it's normal to allow a buffer.… Click To Tweet
Plan and host Zoom meetings carefully
As both participant and host, I’ve noticed that the most enjoyable and productive Zoom meetings are those with very structured and careful hosting. Much more so than in-person meetings. The more people you have the longer it will take and the more planning you’ll need to do in terms of structure and flow.
If you are hosting a Zoom meeting, here are some tips to make it as inclusive, smooth, productive and enjoyable for people:
- As host, you are responsible for creating a safe and inclusive space for people. You need to amplify your verbal warmth and tone in Zoom meetings, since people can’t read your body language.
- Outline clearly what is going to happen- what the structure and timings are.
- Allow time for check-in and human connection at the start. This is not time lost, it’s essential for building the relationships in this on-line space.
- Explain where to find relevant technology bits (mute, chat, hands up) for anyone who is new or unfamiliar.
- Tell people clearly how to contribute.
- For meetings of more than about 6-8 people, make use of breakout rooms and be super clear on timings before people go into those rooms. I’ve noticed that hosts tend to underestimate the time needed in breakout rooms, so if in doubt, allow longer than you think people will need.
- If any meeting is expected to go on for more than 90minutes have a 10-15minute break in the middle.
Sessions lasting over an hour are challenging, particularly if you are just watching a speaker, as in a on-line conference format with a hundred or more people. It’s tempting to go off and start browsing social media. However, this in itself is quite a stressor for the nervous system – listening to one thing, reading something different.
It’s better to allow yourself the break your body is calling out for.
Remember than large Zoom conferences usually use a webinar format where you cannot be seen so it’s fine to go off and make yourself a drink, do some stretches, go to the loo.
Protect your mental health by using your phone instead
For 121 meetings, I recommend going back to good old-fashioned phone calls. It will give your eyes, body and nervous system a break from the screen. Most clients and colleagues that I’ve suggested this to have let out a sigh of relief and said a wholehearted, “Yes! Great idea!”.
Invest in some blue-light blocking glasses
If you are having meetings in the late afternoon or into the evening, consider investing in some blue-light blocking glasses. Blue light from computers and phones can interfere with the secretion of the sleep hormone melatonin and affect the quality of your sleep. (I talk about this in my blog post on sleep). Orange glasses or prescription glasses with blue-blocking lenses can really help here. I have these ones which just look like normal glasses with no orange tinge.
Try them – you might be amazed at the difference they make.
Always consult a doctor if you are concerned about your mental health This article does not constitute medical advice nor is it intended to replace medical advice.
None of the links in this article constitute recommendations, they are simply what I have found to work in my own life. Nor am I an affiliate of any of the companies or people linked to here.