The Slice

Zoom Anxiety: What Are The Triggers and Why Does It Happen?

April 7, 2023

Let's take a look at what Zoom anxiety is, its triggers and causes, and what you can do as a manager to help ensure that your employees aren't suffering from tension, nervousness, or anxiety in relation to your meetings.

According to a recent survey, nearly three out of four people have experienced what is known as "Zoom anxiety" over the prior twelve months.

There are many things your employees can do to try and manage their own anxiety concerning frequent video meetings– taking regular breaks, practicing mindfulness, preparing ahead of time, and more. Beyond that, though, there are also steps that managers and leaders can take to ensure that meetings are both comfortable for participants and efficient and productive.

To understand how to reduce Zoom anxiety, we first need to understand what triggers and causes this phenomenon. Experiencing Zoom anxiety doesn't necessarily mean that an individual has a diagnosable anxiety disorder. At the same time, a person with social anxiety or another anxiety disorder will likely be more susceptible to frequent bouts of video meeting anxiety.

Let's take a closer look at what Zoom anxiety is, its triggers and causes, and what you can do as a manager to help ensure that your employees aren't suffering from tension, nervousness, or anxiety in relation to your meetings.

What Is Zoom Anxiety?

We all know what anxiety feels like– it leaves you feeling unable to relax, nervous, or tense. Beyond that, you can start to fear the worst or be overcome with a sense of dread.

Experiencing anxiety from time to time is a normal part of life and is not necessarily indicative of an anxiety disorder. Researchers aren't precisely certain about the cause of anxiety disorders but typically suspect that some combination of heredity, environmental factors, and chemical imbalances can lead to anxiety disorders.

It's important to understand that experiencing Zoom anxiety– physical anxiety symptoms or panic that result from participating in virtual meetings– doesn't mean that you have a diagnosable anxiety disorder, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

That being said, someone that has an anxiety disorder might find that attending Zoom meetings can be a source of anxiety.

Zoom anxiety is a phenomenon that is related to and overlaps with Zoom fatigue, which is, in short, an overwhelming feeling of exhaustion during or after video meetings.

The Symptoms of Zoom Anxiety

What are some of the physical symptoms of Zoom anxiety?

Much like anxiety brought about by other triggers, someone experiencing virtual meeting anxiety might have:

  • Nausea

  • Tension

  • Dizziness

  • Shortness of breath

  • Sweating

  • Increased heart rate

  • Stomach pain

  • Lightheadedness

Beyond the physical symptoms, a person that is dealing with Zoom anxiety might also feel:

  • Afraid to speak up during a meeting

  • Uneasy or nervous during meetings

  • Forgetful, much like having stage fright

  • Left out of the loop or frustrated

  • Less productive or stressed in the time leading up to the meeting

It's worth noting that, though the term "Zoom anxiety" is most frequently used to describe this phenomenon, it is not specific to the Zoom video conferencing platform. Any virtual meeting software can lead to feelings of insecurity and anxiety.

What Triggers Zoom Anxiety?

Zoom anxiety can be triggered by a number of different factors, and each individual will likely find that certain occurrences are more likely than others to leave them feeling anxious before, during, or after a video meeting.

That being said, one survey found that several specific tasks are most likely to result in feelings of anxiety, with making a presentation the most common cause of Zoom anxiety, followed by interviews, client meetings, and team catch-ups.

Beyond pinpointing tasks that can lead to Zoom anxiety, there are a lot of other experiences that can trigger feelings of discomfort.

According to one survey using a sample size of 2066 respondents, the biggest triggers of Zoom anxiety are:

  • Having audio or tech problems and not knowing how to fix them (83%)

  • Being unable to read the body language of the person they're talking to (67%)

  • Feeling unheard (56%)

  • Needing to go on a call without having adequate time to prepare one's appearance (41%)

  • Anxiety over an unprofessional Zoom background (34%)

  • Being interrupted or talked over when speaking (31%)

  • Being overwhelmed by how many people there are to focus on (23%)

  • Worrying about one's own appearance on camera (18%)

  • Managing call screens along with documents and presentations (15%)

  • Not knowing what to do with one's hands (9%)

Why Does Zoom Anxiety Occur?

One of the theories about the emergence of Zoom anxiety has to do with the larger cognitive load that people have to deal with when engaging in a lot of video meetings. Some researchers have suggested that our brains have to process more nonverbal cues when interacting with others over video rather than if we were interacting in person.

This idea is somewhat substantiated by one study that suggests exhaustion and dread around meetings can be triggered by the following factors:

  • Feeling like one is being watched by all of the other participants

  • Feeling trapped and unable to move during the call

  • Feeling anxiety as a result of seeing one's own face on the screen (also known as mirror anxiety)

  • Larger cognitive load in the form of social cues– both those the individual puts out and the ones they receive from others

The same study found that women were more likely to experience Zoom fatigue and anxiety than men. The research suggests that both self-consciousness and mirror anxiety are much higher among women.

Zoom Anxiety and Social Anxiety

For people who experience social anxiety– a disorder that leads a person to experience significant self-consciousness, embarrassment, and anxiety resulting from everyday social interactions– signing on for a video meeting can make one's symptoms worse.

Some of the experiences that a person with social anxiety might have in relation to video conference calls include:

  • Stage fright when it's their turn to speak

  • Distress about not knowing where to rest one's eyes

  • Difficulty focusing on work in the time before the meeting

  • Physical and mental exhaustion after the meeting

  • Brain fog after the meeting

  • Worrying intensely about technical problems during the meeting

  • Anxieties about how long to talk for and when to talk

  • Losing one's train of thought or having a hard time focusing due to feelings of being watched

When a person has social anxiety, they are, in part, worried about social interactions resulting in being humiliated, judged, or rejected. Without the normal cues of in-person interaction and the unique circumstances presented by virtual meetings, some researchers posit that social anxiety can be heightened and experienced at a new level as a result of conference calls.

Reducing Zoom Anxiety for Employees

As a manager, it can be difficult to know what to do when one or more of your employees is dealing with Zoom anxiety. On the one hand, you likely understand that it can become quite stressful to sit in video meetings all the time. On the other hand, you recognize that conference calls are a vital part of your team's communication strategy.

Let's look at some of the things you can do to help reduce the occurrence of Zoom anxiety for your team.

Give Notice

One of the things that can lead to Zoom anxiety is not having time to prepare before a meeting. This refers to mentally preparing to discuss the topic at hand and physically preparing one's appearance and workspace.

You'll find that your team is much less anxious if they have advanced notice about a meeting. Beyond that, they'll be much better prepared. If you find that it's absolutely necessary to have an emergency meeting as a team, consider allowing it to be an audio-only, cameras-off meeting.

Keep the Communication Lines Open

Your employees might feel ashamed or embarrassed to bring up their concerns surrounding Zoom anxiety, even though it might significantly impact their ability to contribute their best to the team.

For this reason, you might consider bringing up the topic with your team as a whole and letting them know that you are available if anyone is dealing with anxiety, stress, or fatigue in relation to frequent Zoom calls. Your employees will likely appreciate your concern for their well-being, and you might also find that some of your team members are more than happy to be open about the anxiety they're struggling with after a bit of prompting.

Make yourself available to have private, one-on-one meetings with your team members if they are dealing with any issues in this way. The more information you have about how Zoom anxiety impacts your team members on an individual level, the better you'll be able to come up with workable solutions.

Allow Some Off-Camera Time

For some meetings, having everyone's cameras on might be a necessity. In others, though, it might be a waste of everyone's energy to get all prepared and set up to be on camera.

When we have our cameras off, we aren't staring at ourselves or our co-worker's faces for an extended period. This can take a lot of pressure off of us, as it means that we don't feel like we're being watched, and we aren't overly concerned with trying to understand the cues of others over video.

The question of whether or not managers should require cameras to be on during remote meetings is one that has strong arguments on both sides. You can check out our complete guide to the topic in this recent post.

Limit Calls

Video meetings are a big part of what makes remote work work, but that doesn't mean managers aren't guilty of the whole "this meeting could have been an email" phenomenon.

Rather than always assuming that a meeting is the right way to communicate certain information, consider whether one of your other communication methods, such as email, text, or team chat, would be more efficient and appropriate.

Allow Time to Recharge

Talk to your team about how meetings can be scheduled in order to allow everyone sufficient time to recharge after their last conference call.

Zoom fatigue and Zoom anxiety tend to get worse the more frequently a person is on video calls without any time to take a break.

Make Meetings More Comfortable

Another thing you can do to help reduce Zoom anxiety is to do what you can to make meetings more comfortable and fun for your team members. You can do several things to reduce awkwardness in video meetings– including allowing time for socializing, encouraging team building, and having a set agenda that you share ahead of time.

Team building activities can be great for reducing anxiety among your team– the more opportunity your team has to get to know one another, the less likely they are to feel anxious about how their teammates see them.

If you're looking to bring your team together to make meetings more efficient and comfortable, check out some of our hosted virtual experiences. With everything from virtual escape rooms and radio bingo to live trivia and stand-up comedy, you'll find that your meetings flow much more naturally the more comfortable your team members are with one another.

Harness the Power of Pizza to Reduce Awkwardness and Anxiety

One of the best ways to bring your team together is to share a meal. Actually, researchers have found that eating with other people can increase a person's sense of happiness and satisfaction in their lives. Beyond that, communal eating can increase feelings of well-being, social bonding, and one's sense of belonging within a community.

We know what you're thinking. "That all sounds great, but my team is remote. All of my employees live in different cities around the world!"

That's where we come in. At PizzaTime, we specialize in offering catering and virtual experiences to distributed teams across the globe. You don't have to worry about tracking down restaurants in a dozen cities, placing orders for delivery, and ensuring that everyone receives their food on time. We'll take care of it for you!

Whether you want to throw a pizza party for your team, a well-deserved happy hour social, or you're catering a lunch or breakfast meeting, we're here to help. If you're searching for ways to help your team feel comfortable speaking their minds and participating in video meetings, you'll be delighted to find that sharing meals or drinks can really bring everyone together.

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