Image by Viktor Solomin / Contributor

Several months into the COVID-19 pandemic, I found myself engaging in a pattern of committing to, then shamefully dodging, scheduled Zoom calls with friends. Despite missing my interactions with friends (social interaction is essential to overall well-being, after all), I couldn’t seem to muster enough energy to log on. This feeling, I later learned, has been coined “Zoom fatigue,” and I’m not the only one who’s experienced it. 

The phenomenon has become so widespread—due to an increase in video chats for work meetings, birthday celebrations, and even first dates—researchers from Stanford University set out to understand the psychological effects of too much video conferencing

The study, led by Jeremy Bailenson, Ph.D., founding director of the Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab (VHIL), was published Tuesday in the journal Technology, Mind, and Behavior. It confirms that spending too much time on video chat is, in fact, tiring people out. They pinpointed four main reasons, along with practical solutions.

4 causes of “Zoom fatigue”—and fixes:

1. Excessive close-up eye contact.

In the right context and with the right person, eye contact can increase intimacy and communication. Since it is an intimate act, though, too much eye contact can be intense and somewhat stressful. Not only do video conferences require us to make eye contact with someone for long periods of time, but the video format generally increases the size of and proximity of the speaker’s face. Imagine if you were in person—would you be sitting that close to one another?

“With Zoom, all people get the front-on views of all other people nonstop. This is similar to being in a crowded subway car while being forced to stare at the person you are standing very close to, instead of looking down or at your phone,” Bailenson writes in the study.

What to do about it: Stand face-to-face with someone you live with and measure the distance you feel comfortable talking to them. Next time you’re in a Zoom meeting, make sure your laptop or monitor is at that comfortable distance, or farther away.

Live alone? Bailenson says his comfortable distance was 50 centimeters (or about 20 inches), and according to research on personal space, anything less than a 60-centimeter distance is considered “intimate.”

2. You’re seeing yourself constantly in real time.

Aside from dancers, Bailenson says, most people aren’t used to working in front of a mirror all day—that is, until video conferencing became common. Research shows that people are more likely to evaluate themselves when seeing a mirror image. “Given past work, it is likely that a constant ‘mirror’ on Zoom causes self-evaluation and negative affect,” the study states.

What to do about it: If turning your camera off is not an option, use the “hide self-view” feature on Zoom.

3. Less mobility and movement.

“During face-to-face meetings, people move,” Bailenson writes. “They pace, stand up, and stretch, doodle on a notepad, get up to use a chalkboard, even walk over to the water cooler to refill their glass.” These opportunities for movement are limited, if not entirely unavailable, with video meetings. In order to stay visible and centered on people’s screens, most people are confined to a small physical space until their meeting is over.

What to do about it: Create a larger field of view (aka more space to move around) by pushing your device further back.

Also, try to be more intentional about when you’re using videoconferencing versus phone calls. “Phone calls have driven productivity and social connection for many decades,” Bailenson says, “and only a minority of calls require staring at another person’s face to successfully communicate.”

4. Nonverbal cues are harder to interpret.

Nonverbal cues are an essential aspect of communication, and research shows they’re easier to interpret in person than on video. Additionally, Bailenson says people giving the nonverbal cues have to be more aware and exaggerated to get their message across, which can be draining. “Even the way we vocalize on video takes effort.” One study found that people speak 15% louder on video than they do in person.

What to do about it: Bailenson recommends taking an “audio-only” break on days when you have several long meetings. “This is not simply you turning off your camera…but also turning your body away from the screen,” Bailenson says. This way you neither have to perform nor interpret nonverbal cues.

Bottom line.

The technology that allows co-workers, students, teachers, therapists, patients, and more to stay connected in the midst of a pandemic is a critical and groundbreaking tool. As with all technology, though, there are some consequences with overuse. If you’re experiencing Zoom fatigue, you’re not alone. Keeping these simple fixes in mind may alleviate some of the burden.


People lined up outside Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn for vaccines and vaccination appointments on Wednesday. Credit James Estrin/The New York Times

The variant contains a mutation thought to help the virus dodge the immune system, scientists said.

A new form of the coronavirus is spreading rapidly in New York City, and it carries a worrisome mutation that may weaken the effectiveness of vaccines, two teams of researchers have found.

The new variant, called B.1.526, first appeared in samples collected in the city in November. By the middle of this month, it accounted for about one in four viral sequences appearing in a database shared by scientists.

One study of the new variant, led by a group at Caltech, was posted online on Tuesday. The other, by researchers at Columbia University, was published on Thursday morning.

Neither study has been vetted by peer review nor published in a scientific journal. But the consistent results suggest that the variant’s spread is real, experts said.

“It’s not particularly happy news,” said Michel Nussenzweig, an immunologist at Rockefeller University who was not involved in the new research. “But just knowing about it is good because then we can perhaps do something about it.”

Dr. Nussenzweig said he was more worried about the variant in New York than the one quickly spreading in California. Yet another contagious new variant, discovered in Britain, now accounts for about 2,000 cases in 45 states. It is expected to become the most prevalent form of the coronavirus in the United States by the end of March.

Researchers have been scrutinizing the genetic material of the virus to see how it might be changing. They examine genetic sequences of virus taken from a small proportion of infected people to chart the emergence of new versions.

The Caltech researchers discovered the rise in B.1.526 by scanning for mutations in hundreds of thousands of viral genetic sequences in a database called GISAID. “There was a pattern that was recurring, and a group of isolates concentrated in the New York region that I hadn’t seen,” said Anthony West, a computational biologist at Caltech.

He and his colleagues found two versions of the coronavirus increasing in frequency: one with the E484K mutation seen in South Africa and Brazil, which is thought to help the virus partially dodge the vaccines; and another with a mutation called S477N, which may affect how tightly the virus binds to human cells.

By mid-February, the two together accounted for about 27 percent of New York City viral sequences deposited into the database, Dr. West said. (For the moment, both are grouped together as B.1.526.)

The Columbia University researchers took a different approach. They analyzed 1,142 samples from patients at their medical center. They found that 12 percent of people with the coronavirus had been infected with the variant that contains the mutation E484K.

Patients infected with virus carrying that mutation were about six years older on average and more likely to have been hospitalized. While the majority of patients were found in neighborhoods close to the hospital — particularly Washington Heights and Inwood — there were several other cases scattered throughout the metropolitan area, said Dr. David Ho, director of the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center at Columbia University and a co-leader of the study.

“We see cases in Westchester, in the Bronx and Queens, the lower part of Manhattan and in Brooklyn,” Dr. Ho said. “So it seems to be widespread. It’s not a single outbreak.”

The team also identified six cases of the variant that pummeled Britain, two infections with a variant identified in Brazil, and one case of the variant that took over in South Africa. The latter two had not been reported in New York City before, Dr. Ho said.

The university investigators have alerted the authorities in New York State and in the city, as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Ho said. He and his colleagues plan to sequence about 100 viral genetic samples a day to monitor the variants’ rise.

Other experts said the sudden appearance of coronavirus variants was worrying.

“Given the involvement of E484K or S477N, combined with the fact that the New York region has a lot of standing immunity from the spring wave, this is definitely one to watch,” said Kristian Andersen, a virologist at the Scripps Research Institute in San Diego, who was not involved in the new research efforts.

What You Need to Know About the Vaccine Rollout

The E484K mutation has independently cropped up in many different parts of the world, an indication that it offers the virus a significant advantage.

“Variants that have an advantage are going to rise pretty fast in frequency, especially when numbers are coming down over all,” said Andrew Read, an evolutionary microbiologist at Penn State University.

Dr. Ho’s team reported in January that the monoclonal antibodies made by Eli Lilly, and one of the monoclonal antibodies in a cocktail made by Regeneron, are powerless against the variant identified in South Africa.

And several studies have now shown that variants containing the E484K mutation are less susceptible to the vaccines than was the original form of the virus. The mutation interferes with the activity of a class of antibodies that nearly everyone makes, Dr. Nussenzweig said.

“People who have recovered from the coronavirus or who have been vaccinated are very likely to be able to fight this variant off, there’s no doubt about that,” he said. But “they may get a little bit sick from it.”

They may also infect others and keep the virus circulating, which might delay herd immunity, he added.

But other experts were slightly more optimistic. “These things are a little bit less well controlled by vaccine, but it’s not orders of magnitude down, which would terrify me,” Dr. Read said.

As the virus continues to evolve, the vaccines will need to be tweaked, “but in the scheme of things, those aren’t huge worries compared to not having a vaccine,” Dr. Read said. “I’d say the glass is three-quarters full, compared to where we were last year.”


Image by mbg Creative

When it comes to optimizing your energy levels, you may know it takes a bit more work than slugging a cup of coffee or three and calling it a day. A jolt of caffeine may work for the short term, sure, but for chronic exhaustion (and its relentless cousin, burnout)? It may take some proper lifestyle shifts to get your energy up to speed. 

Amy Shah, M.D., double board-certified integrative medicine doctor and author of the new bookI’m So Effing Tiredwould agree: “Our fatigue and burnout problem is a lifestyle problem,” she says on this episode of the mindbodygreen podcast. But while much of the conversation centers around quality sleep and mindfulness practices (which do help, we should note!), she offers even more targeted ways for when that fatigue just won’t let up. 

Her go-to tips, below:

1. Eat gut-supporting foods. 

We’re big on gut health around here, so it’s no surprise gut-supporting foods make it onto the list. But according to Shah, your gut and energy levels are inextricably linked. It all stems from chronic inflammation: “Inflammation is your immune system being activated,” explains Shah. “[Your immune cells] are calling their friends and saying, ‘Hey, we don’t recognize this. We need help here.'” So all of your cells tune in to the threat in question—more often than not within the American population, that “threat” is processed, inflammatory foods that aren’t so good for your gut. 

“Your immune system is constantly talking to your gut bacteria, and they’re making decisions all the time about what to do,” adds Shah. When your gut microbiome is weakened, she says, inflammatory particles can sneak into the bloodstream and jump-start the immune response. “Then you understand, ‘Oh, that’s why I felt so inflamed, swollen, and tired when I was eating really poorly.'” 

Now that you’re familiar with the science, Shah recommends feeding your gut bacteria by increasing your vegetable intake to six to eight servings a day: “If you can get six to eight servings of [vegetables] in your daily life, that means two servings at every meal at least, you are going to experience enormous benefits in your gut health,” she notes. 

As for which vegetables to focus on? Prebiotic-rich foods like onion, garlic, asparagus, and jicama are gut-supporting superstars, as are cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage. “And then you have amazing root vegetables, like sweet potato and yams,” she adds. Try incorporating at least two of these veggies at every meal (yes, including breakfast), and you may notice a difference in energy. 

2. Try circadian fasting. 

On the subject of food, Shah says when you eat is just as important as the food you put on your plate. She’s a fan of intermittent fasting but with a twist: “Doing intermittent fasting in the circadian style is the correct biological way of doing intermittent fasting,” she says. 

How does this relate to energy? Well, your body follows a circadian rhythm every single day, with your hormones sending messages to your brain when it’s time for sleep. “The hormone melatonin, for example, binds to your brain to tell it to get sleepy,” says Shah. But “it also binds to the pancreas and tells the pancreas to shut off insulin production and pancreatic enzyme production.” 

So when you eat late at night, your pancreas might not digest the food as well, as it was prepared for recovery mode. “It’s like someone woke you up in a deep sleep and asked you a really difficult math problem,” says Shah. “You are going to make mistakes, and you’re not going to perform well on that math test.” 

That’s why circadian fasting, she notes, may be a better way to approach intermittent fasting. With intermittent fasting, you can choose any time-restricted eating window you want; with circadian fasting, you eat with the rise and fall of the sun.

“Look at how we were evolutionarily built,” says Shah. “We didn’t have refrigerators and microwaves. We would end our meals shortly after sundown, and we wouldn’t eat first thing in the morning. There was no cereal right there when you woke up, right? You would wake up, get your food, and it may be a little bit delayed. So physiologically and evolutionarily speaking, circadian fasting fits our bodies by biology.” 

3. Incorporate NEAT movement. 

Another reason you might have low energy: “We don’t get enough movement in the day,” says Shah. But she doesn’t mean you should go heavy on the HIIT workouts: “I’m talking about NEAT movement, non-exercise activity thermogenesis.” Definition: Energy expended during “non-exercise”–related activities, like walking up stairs, carrying groceries, and the like.

Essentially, Shah wants you to focus on movement all day long—not only during a formal workout. “The longest-living people in the world in the Blue Zones, they’re not doing what we in the Western world would consider ‘exercise.’ But they’re not sitting in a chair for eight hours a day—they’re moving around; they’re taking the stairs’ they’re walking to their friend’s place.” 

The link between exercise and energy levels is well documented, but Shah says that simple NEAT movements can help you reap similar benefits—in fact, research has shown that the number of calories NEAT burns ranges from about 15% to as much as 50% or more of your daily energy expenditure.

Consider taking your work calls while walking outside, or stand up and stretch every hour—it might make all the difference. (Find other ways to incorporate NEAT movement here.) 

The takeaway. 

If you’re facing chronic fatigue and low energy, try Shah’s long-term tips to get your energy levels back up to speed. Her go-to’s have benefits way beyond energy, anyway, and you might not even need that third cup of coffee to keep you on track.


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