Virtual Session Fatigue

September 2, 2020
Author: Jo Ann Graser, NCPT, PMA Board of Directors President

After a full day of leading 4 virtual Pilates sessions and attending 2 Zoom meetings in early April, my brain and body were fried. I felt bone weary and incapable of carrying on a normal in-person conversation with my family. No stranger to even longer days in my studio, this level of exhaustion was perplexing.

Pre-Covid 19, I was leading group classes and one-on-one sessions many hours each week. My classes and sessions were detailed and focused, easily picking up on the verbal and non-verbal cues from my clients. I used the cadence of my voice and frequent demonstration and gesture to effectively lead each session and maintain a rhythmic flow.

Enter Covid-19, mandatory quarantine, and a quick pivot to on-line delivery. The entirety of my life moved to virtual interaction and the challenges that situation posed. The realities of on-line teaching/meeting/interacting began to take its toll.

So many of us are experiencing the same challenges that a generic term has been arisen: “Zoom Fatigue.” This platform alone is not to blame, the problems are inherent in all types of video-conferencing formats: FB Live, IG Live, Zoom, Meet Ups, Google Meetings, Skype etc. It is evident that leading sessions while staring at a small screen is the likely culprit.

Why is this? What is it about sitting at a desk and communicating via video that brings about this level of fatigue? Let us explore this phenomenon and identify some solutions.

We all communicate verbally and non-verbally. During a live interaction, our brains focus on the spoken words while simultaneously processing large numbers of non-verbal cues. These cues help us to interpret the intention of the speaker, sometimes even more so than the words they are speaking. We rely on these cues to fashion our responses, what we are going to say, how we are going to say it and our reactions.

Stimulus from our interactions comes not only straight at us but also peripherally. This peripheral activity keeps our eyes and head constantly scanning and moving in a wide arc. As movement professionals, we can all appreciate the importance of these actions as part of an overall strategy to keep and maintain mobility and neural health.

Virtual teaching changes this interaction. In a one-on-one session, staring at a small screen, our vision becomes fixed and we strain to concentrate. The world outside the dimensions of our screen ceases to exist. These interactions can even feel threatening or aggressive as participants “stare” at each other in an effort to communicate effectively. Other problems arise when our client must interrupt their movement to view our demonstration when words are not enough to convey the instructions. Even in the best of scenarios, when client and teacher are in synch, the slight audio delay inherent in all virtual technology creates “interruptions” and gaps so the flow gets lost. If your client asks a question, it can get cut off as you offer your next cue, so the session halts while both parties struggle to communicate.

Teaching a group class with a gallery view fatigues the brain even more as it struggles to read many inputs at once. This differs from teaching an in-person group class as we no longer can rely on our peripheral vision to help us process the input from those not in our line of focus.

We have explored the reasons why we get fatigued when teaching virtually. There is no way to alter how we experience the virtual platform, but there are steps we can take to mitigate their effects and keep us energized and focused.

  • Stand while teaching your sessions, with your screen set at eye level. Have room to move back from the screen to effectively offer some physical movements to demonstrate your instructions (moving your arms or torso). I never teach sitting down in person, so I do my best to stay on my feet when teaching a virtual session.
  • Take regular “visual” breaks by looking away, beyond your screen. Scan your surroundings briefly and then bring your gaze back to your subject.
  • Schedule breaks in between sessions with enough time to move away from the computer. Move your head, neck, arms, and torso while expanding your visual field by focusing on things in the periphery and distance.

Trent McEntire, owner of McEntire Pilates and creator of the BrainSpeed BallTM suggests playing a game to lessen the negative impact of long hours of screen time: “Our brain prioritizes information coming in from the eyes. When that information consists of limited movement plus screen fatigue, our whole body suffers. Just like the rest of our body, the eyes are designed to move. So, when you take a screen break, I highly recommend that you move your eyes at different speeds in many directions. Making it a game is even better. Your brain and body will thank you.”

While months have passed since the initial shelter-in-place orders and some regions are beginning to open up for limited in-person teaching, many are still only allowed to teach virtually. Those of us that can teach in person are still offering virtual sessions for clients not comfortable with the in-person scenario. The virtual option is here to stay and for that reason we need to understand and be prepared to address the physical and neurological impact of this style of teaching. We have become adept at addressing movement restrictions in our clients, and we need to use those same tools for our own self-care.

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Category: Business