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What is Zoom doing to our mental health and body image?

A psychologist reveals the unexpected side effects...

Anyone who’s had to replace their normal face-to-face meetings with a packed calendar full of Zoom catch-ups will be very familiar with their own face at this point. Staring down the barrel of our phone or laptop camera, we’ve been privy to seeing our faces from every angle. We’ve seen ourselves gurn, we’ve discovered our resting bitch faces in action and we’ve developed a new (obsessive) preoccupation with our under-eye bags and features. This coupled with our mood (and studies have found the amount of time we spend on Zoom plays directly into our headspace) has affected the way we view and critique ourselves.

What started as a novel way to interact with our mates and co-workers – from our sofa, while wearing our trackie bums – seems to have lost its sheen in the six months we’ve been using it, and when used excessively, video conferencing can trigger damaging repercussions for our mental health and our body image.

It’s not exactly a new problem. “Access to social platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and beyond has made people of every age get hooked to social media,” explains Dr Martina Paglia, psychologist at The International Psychology Clinic. “During this era, communication through social platforms is more common than meeting in person, which is a rarity nowadays. It does come with its advantages, but it has also led to the paradox of loneliness, anxiety, depression, hatred and narcissism that is in a way linked directly with social media’s excessive usage.”

The addition of Zoom, which for many became a constant feature of our working lives overnight, is compounding the issue. “Face to face meetings are crucial mechanisms for communication and maintaining a healthy environment. It’s a great way to introduce our feelings, emotions, attitude, gestures and postures non-verbally. But on zoom meetings, we need to make more efforts to stay active,” says Dr Martina.

It may sound trivial, but the energy required to keep the momentum going in a virtual space filled with distractions, tech fails and lagging can leave us feeling drained, without the benefit of being able to vibe off each other as we would IRL. “It’s exhausting to feel like we have to put in more effort to be mentally present in a meeting where we physically aren’t. Meetings held online increase cognitive load as it asks for a lot of conscious capacity and effort,” says Dr Martina. “In real life meetings, silence is an excellent tool as it creates a natural rhythm and calmness. In Zoom meetings, it makes us anxious and angry. We zone out and feel like the other person is less friendly and focused.”

If we let it, overuse of social media and conferencing platforms can chip away at our productivity levels, make us lose focus and lower our mood. “An experimental study held at the University of Pennsylvania showed the connection between social media use and feelings of depression and loneliness,” explains Dr Martina. “It proves that less usage of social platforms can tremendously increase one’s self-worth and wellbeing.”

It’s this vulnerable state that can make zoom calls a challenging environment. For many of us, daily video conferencing is a new requirement and it was introduced at a more anxious and claustrophobic time than usual.

“Many studies and psychologists agree that people with positive self-esteem are more confident and more efficient,” says Dr Martina. “People with low self-esteem focus on their weaknesses and everything wrong with their personalities and lives.” When our mental health is suffering and we’re already feeling low, it can amplify the issues that we have with our own body, not to mention being faced with our own reflections for long hour-long meetings. “Having heads staring at us for a long time can be off-putting,” says Dr Martina. “We can focus more on fixing our hair, makeup and clothing rather than the meeting.” Seeing our faces lit up in the corner of the screen can make us self-conscious, but also, more critical.

Searches for tweakments are on the increase and we know people are feeling more aware and unhappy with their body concerns than before. Since lockdown, Dr Rod J Rohrich, a cosmetic surgeon based in Texas, told the BBC he was seeing "even more [patients] than I would say is normal. We could probably operate six days a week if we wanted to.” Likewise the consensus coming from cosmetic surgeons and aesthetic nurses on the ground in the UK, is that treatments like rhinoplasty, lip fillers and botox continue to boom. That’s not to demonise tweakments. If it makes you more happy and confident, that can only be a good thing. We just need to be aware of where the decision is coming from and ensure it’s not triggered by more deep-rooted underlying issues.

Which takes us back to social media and zoom. “There are definite positive impacts of social media. Social platforms like Facebook and Instagram can not only make us stay in contact with the surrounding issues and state of the world but also link us with our family and friends who live far away from us,” says Dr Martina. “Other business platforms like LinkedIn can introduce us to the professional world, providing us with jobs and new experiences” and zoom has enabled many of us to continue working, whilst being able to spend more time at home with loved ones. It’s all about perspective, but more importantly, balance.

Stick to using video conferencing strictly when it’s necessary or helpful and keep your focus on the person you’re speaking to. Avoid the temptation to analyse yourself. For everything else, suggest a phone call, keep it brief and follow up on email if you need to. Get back into the habit of prioritising a walk or a workout in your lunch break or after you finish to break your day up and give you headspace. And make sure to plan in plenty of IRL face time with the people who’ve earned a spot in your bubble.

And for an extra dose of mood-boosting, follow Dr Martina’s tips below:

  1. While talking to yourself, use uplifting and encouraging figures. It helps to trick your mind into thinking that you are worth it. The more affirmative you are about yourself, the more positive you’ll feel about yourself.
  2. Wake up with an optimistic thought of making your day worth living. It will develop a positive self-image.
  3. Try to accept that nobody is perfect and everyone is dealing with one’s imperfections. Always try to be the best version of yourself and make yourself your competition.
  4. Do what makes you happy. You’re likely to think positive and happy if you spend more time doing and practising what you preach.
  5. It’s easy to overthink about the things that are out of your control, but it won’t do any good to you. Build your confidence and try to feel better about yourself by celebrating small achievements.
  6. If you are surrounded by people who play their absolute part to lower your self-esteem, you’ll feel negativity all the time. Surround yourself with people who are good for your health and self-esteem.

This originally appeared on GLAMOUR UK | Author: Elle Turner

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