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Episode LP

Episode 2

Working Better Podcast Series 

How Is Social Distancing Affecting Our Mental Health? 

There are many reasons why so many of us need a vacation right now more than ever. And that’s because COVID-19 has changed how we work, and that also introduced a new term that we all became very familiar with: “Zoom Fatigue.”

Those lucky enough to work remotely during the pandemic, I am sure you have experienced seven consecutive video meetings, followed by a “virtual happy hour” with friends, and then spent an hour with family as they try to figure out how not to talk over each other on FaceTime...the pure exhaustion of “Zoom fatigue” is all too familiar an idea now.

 

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The CEO and Founder of Zoom has rejected most in-person meetings and explained his rationale like this: “Why would I leave my office, or leave the country to do an hour meeting when I can do the same meeting over a Zoom?”

But, that’s cost bigger mental health issues because we are all on Zoom, all day, every day.

Here is a summary of the episode, and you’ll find the full-transcript below if you prefer browsing while listening.

Mental Health and Virtual Connections

  • Humans are social creatures and communicators at heart. Research shows just how much we communicate nonverbally; body language, facial expressions, eye contact, little tiny things that we’re able to see, and decode, consciously or unconsciously.
  • Put everyone into little postage stamps on your screen, and those cues are mostly gone. But your brain is still trying to seek out that same information, so it goes into gathering mode. Your brain quickly becomes overstimulated, trying to pay attention to so many different things, that it doesn’t really focus on any one thing particularly well.
  • All of this leads to one thing, which many of us are experiencing right now: Exhaustion. Not the same “I’ve worked too much this week exhaustion, either.” It’s the “I’m not getting enough done, and having the right social interactions to actually enjoy my week and feel like I’m making progress”.’’’
  • According to a recent NY Times article, dentists are getting increasingly more appointments from patients who have cracked their teeth from grinding them together. They are calling it an “epidemic of broken teeth.”

How Tech Can Help

  • Can technology also create the “randomness of relationship building” that we experience when we’re in the office?
  • How can you recreate those spontaneous interactions that make your office your office?
  • Employee recognition can stimulate conversations and a sense of belonging in a remote workforce.
  • Kin + Carta experimented using blockchain technology to create a “digital high-five” system. Within a year, it had 25,000 transactions

Show Notes 

(02:41) How Is Social Distancing Affecting Our Mental Health? 

In this episode, we discuss how therapists and business leaders have approached this challenge. Of connecting with people. Of substituting genuine human interactions. Of practicing empathy, vulnerability, and trust as best we can given the circumstances, with the tools at our disposal.

In addition, we talk about how tech can help us form creative solutions - including mental wellness apps, blockchain-based employee recognition systems, and how to rethink our relationship with the tech we’re growing all-too-familiar with.

(03:10) Mental Health and Virtual Connections

When the founder of Zoom, Eric S. Yuan was in the early stages of creating and growing Zoom, he actually refused to do in-person meetings. “Why would I leave my office, or leave the country to do an hour meeting, when I can do the same meeting over a Zoom?” he stated.

But suddenly during the pandemic, we turned to video conferencing apps like Zoom, Skype, and FaceTime to make us feel like we still had social lives. Virtual game nights. Trivia Nights. Happy hours. Boozy brunches.

(04:40) The science of Zoom Fatigue

Humans are social creatures and communicators at heart. Research shows just how much we communicate non-verbally; body language, facial expressions, little tiny things that we’re able to see, and decode, consciously or unconsciously.

According to experts, people tend to over “perform” while on Zoom calls, because they’re able to constantly monitor their expressions, how emotive they’re being, their posture. While in conversation with Alice Boyes, a former clinical psychologist and author of The Healthy Mind Toolkit, she said, "Especially with Zoom, you do a lot of monitoring, we know from studies of social anxiety that people with social anxiety do a lot of internal monitoring."

All of this leads to one thing, which many of us are experiencing right now: Exhaustion.

With Zoom, you do a lot of monitoring of yourself, and we know that from studies of social anxiety, that people with social anxiety do a lot of internal monitoring.

Alice Boyes - psychologist and author of "The Healthy Mind Toolkit."

(06:25) Beyond Exhaustion

So, what can we do about this different type of exhaustion that we’re facing?

What happens when you’re more than just “tired?” What happens when you’re beyond exhausted to the point where you literally can’t participate in another zoom meeting without zoning completely out. John O'Duinn, the author of a book called “Distributed teams: The Art and Practice of Working Together While Physically Apart" explained, "You had a particular way of interacting with people in meetings. You had exercise by walking around the building or walking up for lunch. Now you stay at home and you hop from one video call to another and you're still in the same chair." 

The impact is not just on our mental health. According to a recent NY Times article, dentists are getting increasingly more appointments from patients who have cracked their teeth from grinding them together.

Peter Jackson, CEO at Bluescape suggested employers need to address their employees' Zoom Fatigue: "You have to step back and look at it from the standpoint of look you're responsible for not just these people, but their spouses... their children, their lifestyle." 

(08:28) Relying on therapy

Virtual therapy is growing in popularity. There are many platforms out there, such as TalkSpace and BetterHealth, where you can contact a virtual therapist. 

The first reason is the perception that therapy is a good thing for normal people to do is helping the industry grow. You don’t have to hide that you have a therapist anymore. the other reason is that it’s never been easier to see a therapist because of the new tools and platforms that exist now because of the acceleration of digital tools during the pandemic. You no longer have to take time off to leave your office and see a therapist. 

Surprisingly, some studies have shown that online therapy is even more effective than in-person therapy. A July 2020 study from McMaster University in Toronto, conducted seventeen randomized control trials comparing therapist-supported cognitive behavioral therapy delivered electronically to face to face cognitive behavioral therapy. The researchers found that online therapy improved patients' symptoms better than face to face did. 


You have to step back and look at it from the standpoint of 'Look you're responsible for not just these people, but their spouses... their children, their lifestyle'.

Peter Jackson - CEO at Bluescape

(10:17) Longing for Random Physical Connections

But, what happens to our attitudes about work when we’re not getting that real direct human interaction? With all of us being virtual, it can really impact our perceptions of working being done.

Chris Weiland, Director of Kin + Carta Americas Labs explained "I'm on a Zoom, I'm chatting with my team. We're all working. Whereas at the office, if you get up from your desk and walk to the washroom or walk to the cafe, you're not working, you're not typing. You're not at your desk. You're not connected." So, can technology also create the “randomness of relationship building” that we experience when we’re in the office?

We’re all learning the new way to work at the same time. Try stepping away from the computer for your next meeting. Dial in to Zoom from your phone as you walk around the neighborhood.

There is also some great advice from psychologists Rachel and Stephen Kaplan. They have shown that mental fatigue can be treated via Attention Restoration.

You can undo the fatigue of directed attention, a.ka. Zoom fatigue by spending time in an environment that has the following qualities:

  • Being Away: A place where you are not being forced to pay attention to tiny images of humans
  • Soft Fascination: A place that's of interest to you but allows you to be in it and be reflective.
  • Extent: The environment is somewhat familiar.
  • Compatibility: It is a place that you choose to be in and are not forced to be there.

The Kaplans have looked at the restorative power of spending time in nature which definitely matches all of these criteria. And this is more than just their opinion. There was a study done in 1991, where they compared how three groups of people did tasks that required a lot of attention. One group did not get to go on vacation. One group went on vacation in an urban area and the third group went to a rural area. All groups were tested before and after. All groups were tested before and after. The control group’s performance declined. Not surprising. The urban vacation group’s performance also declined. Do not tell the NYC board of tourism this. The urban vacation group’s performance was the only one that improved. Amazingly enough even just taking time to look at pictures of nature or pictures or art can help restore your attention. So, schedule a meeting with nature and DO NOT attend via Zoom.

Finally, it is important that you continue to make human connections, real, human connections that involve your co-workers but have nothing to do with work. John O'Duinn gave us a great tip, "It's important to intentionally have time to socially chit chat with others. So every day, intentionally make 10, 15 minutes, and just have an impromptu coffee with somebody. It's not a lot of time, you don't have an agenda."

 

It's important to intentionally have time to socially chit chat with others. So every day, intentionally make 10, 15 minutes, and just have an impromptu coffee with somebody. It's not a lot of time, you don't have an agenda.

John O'Duinn - author of "Distributed teams, The Art and Practice of Working Together While Physically Apart".