Although teleworking and communicating with your close relatives only by means of Zoom or other similar video calling applications have been causing concern for many at the beginning of the pandemic, today it is a normal part of our daily routine. Yet how does virtual communication affect our psychology? Does social distancing cause alienation or, on the contrary, make us closer than ever before? In a podcast “Science without Preaching” (Mokslas be pamokslų) PhD Antanas Kairys, Associated Professor at the Faculty of Philosophy of Vilnius University (VU) and a lecturer of psychology, admits that virtual communication makes us more tired and have less leisure time, resulting in our unconscious lack of attention to our friends, which increases the risk of losing them and returning back to normal life with a much smaller social circle.
An increasing number of people have been suffering from Zoom fatigue
According to the scientist, communication is not only about transferring information – when talking to a person we observe his/her reactions and try to perceive how his/her mood or voice timbre changes. Remote communication deprives us of these aspects, because while talking online we can only see the person’s face or, at best, the hands and gestures, thus we find ourselves in a situation that is not common for the human nature.
“We are social creatures and we really care about other people. When communicating by means of various apps the quality of hearing our interlocutors is poorer than during a live conversation, and we may experience some failures like audio delay. If we find it difficult to observe what is happening, naturally we get more tired after such a conversation. It is not by chance that we have been hearing expressions such as Zoom fatigue more often,” says Assoc. Prof. Kairys, adding that we do not maintain an eye contact during these conversations, which also contradicts the basic mechanisms of human social perception.
The psychologist notes that we also suffer from fatigue due to the disappearing boundaries between work and leisure. Teleworking has occupied our private home space; therefore, we have not only lost our common working environment, but also our resting environment.
“Researchers from various organisations observe that some work related calls are made during lunch breaks or after working hours, i.e. at a time when they should not be made. Even now I am sitting on the sofa and my computer is placed on the dining table rather than on the office desk. It is not a normal working environment we have been used to. Hence we start feeling as if we are working non-stop, even at weekends, which may lead to a burnout syndrome,” comments the scientist.
When talking about fatigue caused by teleworking, Assoc. Prof. PhD Kairys emphasises that we also feel it due to the decreased amount of informal interactions – we mainly discuss only professional activity related issues while talking to our colleagues remotely. Whereas at a live meeting social situations are completely different: we have lunch together, joke, and have breaks to discuss our private life. Yet the professor does not reject the possibility that virtual conversations do contain a social element and at least partially satisfy the need for social contacts.
No need to wait for an occasion to call your friends
Although it is still difficult to forecast the impact of social distancing on our emotional health and relationships with others in the future, Assoc. Prof. Kairys admits that lockdown restrictions have had psychological consequences for part of society. According to the expert, young and elderly persons have faced the greatest challenges.
“Teenage and youth is the time for establishing social contacts, expanding the circle of friends, and peer groups are very important at this stage. Therefore, young people find it very difficult to get through this period. It is also difficult to those who are lonely. However, loneliness can be present in all age groups, and this problem has been significant among the elderly already before the pandemic,” the scientist is certain.
When comparing different groups of people, he does not exclude the influence of personal traits. For instance, extroverts are in a much greater need for close contacts than introverts, thus the former find it more difficult to get through the lockdown. Yet any person who stops cherishing relationships with others faces the risk of losing them. There are signs that this risk has increased during the lockdown – tired of remote interactions and having no leisure time, we unconsciously start refusing socialising with some of our friends.
“Research states that it is usually a turning-point when some friends are lost. The pandemic is one of such turning-points. If, for example, we feel fatigue and unwillingness to socialise during our leisure time due to work related contacts, we may not even notice how we lose some of our friends. This will happen when we will not be willing to contact, text or call others. Yet we have to stay mindful and not to forget that it is not only us who need friends – friends also need us, so we should pay attention to their wellbeing and not be afraid of initiating conversations,” Assoc. Prof. Kairys gives a piece of advice.
The expert points out that we do not have to wait for an occasion to call our true friends. The same applies to the relationship with close relatives – we should call them not only on the occasion of birthday, Easter or Christmas.
“It is not actual socialising – it is rather formal maintenance of the relationship because we are relatives. If speaking about normal socialising, interpersonal relationships could be differentiated from professional or other contacts by the ability to call a person without any specific issue to discuss,” states Assoc. Prof. Kairys.
Returning back to normal life may be stressful
Nevertheless, what actions can we take after we perceive that we are distancing from people who are dear to us? According to the scientist, the first step towards a better relationship is the balance between professional and private life.
“If work has occupied all your life, it is not very good. Of course, there are situations when you can’t find time for your leisure. However, if you are not currently undergoing a very tough period, try to dissociate work from your leisure time as much as possible. At a certain moment we must be able to say ‘stop’ – I will not answer the call, unless it is a friend calling. In order to be more willing to socialise with friends we just have to be less tired,” Assoc. Prof. Kairys advises.
The psychologist underlines that although the lockdown period poses a number of different challenges, it also opens opportunities instead of only bringing loss. For example, dedicating your time for things that you have never had time to do or learning new things that will help when you return back to the normal rhythm of life. Nevertheless, this return may be far more complicated than many believe and expect.
“We felt stress when entering the lockdown and likewise we might feel stress when exiting it. Some people have really weaned themselves off the normal reality. Stress is a reaction to both positive and negative stimuli. For example, we are looking forward to and are very happy about our holidays but when we are finally on a holiday we feel constant stress. Winning in a lottery may also cause the same stress as a considerable financial loss. Our body reacts to changes and it is a fact that we will have to adapt to the new normal. A lockdown is a long period that may frazzle some people, yet namely these people will feel relieved more quickly,” adds Assoc. Prof. Kairys.
Pranešimą paskelbė: Liudmila Januškevičienė, Vilniaus universitetas