If it wasn’t already true before, it’s definitely true now — our lives are more digital than ever. Work meetings, happy hours, family gatherings, and almost all in-person interactions have been replaced with a screen.
On one hand, the ability to be socially close while physically apart is amazing. Moms spent virtual time with their kids and loved ones on Mother’s Day, extended families saw each other’s faces on Easter, and we don’t have to be completely alone while we’re at home.
However, there is a downside to the sharp uptick in video meetings and FaceTime happy hours. Science shows that video chats and digital conferences are mentally and physically more taxing than spending time with our friends, family, and co-workers in person.
Why? Our brains are designed to read all the social cues of human interaction as they occur in person. Over video, the slightest delay, a reduction in quality, or just seeing a person from the shoulders up forces our brains to work harder when being social. Simply put — we weren’t made to talk to each other this way.
But don’t give up on the screen entirely! We’re fortunate to have this technology to keep us connected — we just have to manage it. Here are five tips to avoid burnout and start feeling better about your digital connections.
FOMO is real, making it difficult to decline invitations. It’s not far off from a party invitation you don’t really want to attend but don’t want to miss either. The difference here: Continual video calls during work hours and a check-in with your kid’s teacher after doesn’t leave much energy for anything else. It’s OK to say no and prioritize the events you do want to attend.
Make a Phone Call
Remember phone calls? Not every digital interaction needs video! A phone call with a good friend eliminates the stress of looking or acting a certain way over video. Without it, you can focus more on what the other person is saying and less on how your face is acting while they’re saying it.
Flip Over the Privacy Shield
Speaking of voice-only interactions, not every video call needs the webcam. Any situation can have its reason to disable the camera: It’s not your best hair day, there isn’t a “scenic” area of your house or apartment to show off to co-workers, or maybe the kids are a little extra this morning. Turn on the camera when it matters or is expected, and give yourself a break otherwise.
Take a Hike
Trade a call in your living room for one during a walk outside. You’ll be amazed at what a change of scenery and activity can do for a video call. A walk outside takes your mind off all those digital social cues your brain would otherwise be searching for and creates a more natural atmosphere for work meetings or happy hours. Just be sure to walk responsibly and maintain your distance.
Keep Some Perspective
When video conferencing feels like something you have to do, remember that it’s something you get to do. The extra digital connections can sometimes seem like an obligation, but imagine what this situation would have been like 10 or 20 years ago. We would probably be yearning for a better connection between friends, family, and colleagues.
Set your boundaries, and makes your priorities, but remember that while we stay physically apart, keeping socially together is a blessing.