March 11th 2021
The shamechanger: Our straight-talking columnist advises on the very modern problem of Zoom anxiety
March 24th 2021 / 0 comment
One reader is suffering from panic attacks as a result of endless video meetings. Hattie Sloggett offers advice on how to manage these feelings
“I’m an introvert and I really struggle with team Zoom meetings. I feel so uncomfortable, I hate the way I look in them, I don’t speak up enough, I’m terrified of embarrassing myself, I clam up when I’m asked to present anything and I feel that I am falling behind in my role. When we were all in the office I could manage my anxiety and had tricks I used that would get me through conversations and social engagements. Online it’s so much harder to get away from being the focus. I've started having panic attacks and I’m nervous about telling anyone in my team because I think it sounds pathetic. I love my job but I’m not sure I can handle it any longer as even when lockdown is over, they are planning on more remote working. I’m convinced they are going to fire me because I am useless.”
Ah my love, so many people are speaking out about this at the moment. This increase in video calling has sparked a rise in social anxiety even for people who don’t identify as an introvert, so please don’t feel like you are alone. It’s not helped by the fact that those of us who need to retreat to the safe place we call home are now having to use it as our workspace too. Bupa, the private healthcare provider, reports that its health and wellbeing advice line has received 300 per cent more calls since lockdown began and workplace psychologists are fully booked for virtual consultations since the beginning of the pandemic.
It’s a tough one because it doesn’t look like home working and video calls are going away anytime soon. Does your company have an HR department you can talk to? Just because you are not physically in the office it doesn’t mean that their rules of care don’t apply. Rachel Suff, public policy adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), the body for HR professionals, says that people struggling with anxiety who feel their job might be cut or pay reduced feel like they can’t raise their hand and admit to struggling. People who are there to help you are aware of the issue and because of this, I urge you to get in touch with them.
Although you have listed quite a few issues that are playing havoc with your mind, what I’m really hearing from you is that the fear of having to speak up has spiralled so out of control that you have convinced yourself of things that you don’t know for sure. So, let me set the record straight. Feeling uncomfortable is perfectly normal, in real life we don’t have to worry about having a camera in our face every meeting. You say you hate the way you look but is it actually the way you look on screen that is the issue? if this is the case you need to know that any video call will distort the face because of the unnatural angle of the camera on your laptop, which makes the lower face look bigger. Try playing with the height of your laptop and see if this helps. Another thing that I have noticed that takes the pressure off a bit, is having your settings on ‘gallery’ mode so that you can see everyone in the meeting, rather than just staring directly at your own face picking out faults. There’s no denying these emotions are all real, but they are coming from an internal voice in your head. The best way to deal with the voice in your head is to outsmart it. You must gather unbreakable proof to tell it that it’s not true. I’ve listed some things below that might help this.
Baby Steps – it’s the little things
First things first, you need to focus on building some confidence around how you present yourself on these calls. Use good lighting; you can either buy a ring light (there are some simple and well-priced ones on Amazon) or choose a location in your home that has consistently good natural light to use as your ‘phone booth’.
Try to use a neutral and/or white background, this will help by removing the opportunity for people to peer into your life. I’m not saying you need to spend big bucks on this but get a decent microphone, even if it's just wearing your headphones, this will cut-out any background noise from your end reducing the chance of being asked to repeat yourself.
Adjust your posture so you sit with your head up and shoulders back and practice voice projection, making sure when you speak it is clear and you are aiming your words at the back of the room. Also, if you have any blue or green clothing wear that. Psychologically these colours trigger relaxation and concentration – it’s why medical scrubs are these colours.
These small things can boost your confidence without you even realising it.
Head On – be the change
Reach out to your HR department and/or manager, whoever you feel most comfortable with because it is important to get this on record. You will need to be honest because you can’t keep feeling like this and I can guarantee you are not the only one. Discuss with them some options to help you (and potentially others) move forward.
The company may not actually be aware that this approach to meetings is impacting its employees negatively. Make a list of all the things you believe would help reduce the anxiety and stress around these endless video calls and meetings that could be emails instead. This could include a buddy system with someone in a different department, setting out and sticking to clear agendas, having the meeting leader control who gets to speak and when, limiting the number of meetings in a week, or even as simple as not enforcing video and making them audio-only meetings.
Full Nuclear – quit
Honestly, there is nothing else I can tell you, it really is that simple. If you don’t like the way your company is working right now, then you are in for disappointment, because according to the CIPD, reports show that 40 per cent of employers said they expect more than half their workforce to work regularly from home after the pandemic has ended. And with home working, comes video calls. But will the grass be greener elsewhere?
Look I don’t expect you to quit, and if you do want to then please take time to consider the other options first. You obviously love your job and you clearly managed before working from home, so there is no reason why you can’t manage now. You just have to tweak a few things.
Got some shame you want to change? Message Hattie at [email protected]
Hattie is a confidence and emotional intelligence coach, Master NLP Practitioner and True-Self Advocate. She is so grateful for your emails and reads all of them but cannot reply individually. Names will be withheld if requested and letters may be edited for the wider audience. For a private chat or in-depth consultation find her at www.hattiesloggett.com
Names have been changed.