As the weeks drag on under lockdown, many of us are getting fed up with Zoom. It was fun to see people virtually at first, but now our eyes hurt from staring at our screens, the technical glitches are irritating and it’s exhausting to have to sit through calls that could have easily been an email.
Spending hours video chatting with family, friends and colleagues means we’re also spending more time than ever looking at — and scrutinising — ourselves. Not only are we staring at ourselves from notoriously unflattering laptop angles, the so-called ‘flaws’ we never usually notice are suddenly far more obvious. Grey hairs seem to stand out, eye lines look deeper and blemishes are horribly noticeable.
“With cameras being the main way we’re communicating with loved ones and work colleagues, people are looking at their own faces now more than ever have before,” says Dr Asher Siddiqi, medical aesthetic expert at Transform Hospital Group, adding that more people are enquiring about cosmetic procedures in recent weeks.
“It can be very disconcerting particularly when we’re seeing our faces up close and know there may be a virtual meeting room full of people also looking at our face the same way. We’re seeing more people booking in video consultations with us as a result.”
There are other reasons why we feel awkward on video calls, too. We never normally see ourselves speak, but now we’re watching our facial expressions for hours on end — and noticing the weird things we do when we talk and listen. It’s no wonder, then, that so many of us are getting a complex about the way we look and act.
So how can you stop focusing on your flaws while video-calling — and feel less self-conscious?
Turn off your camera
If you have self-image issues, then once you get yourself positioned in shot, switch off your self-view. You can still sit in on meetings and family chats and see everyone, but you won’t be worrying about the way you look. You might want to tell your boss first, so they don’t question you about it in front of colleagues, though. If you have to have your camera on, move away from it slightly.
Only use Zoom, Skype or FaceTime when necessary
Sometimes, seeing the person you are speaking to doesn’t add anything to the experience, so only use video calling apps when it’s really necessary. If you just need a quick catch up with your boss or a colleague, a phone call will suffice. Email, Slack and other instant messaging apps can be good for sending information quickly with minimal fuss.
We’re also far less likely to concentrate on what is being said in a meeting if the meeting isn’t necessary — which might mean we end up staring at our own cameras instead of who is speaking.
Take time to set up
If you feel awkward in general on video chats, spend some time setting up your laptop and surrounding area. The more comfortable and confident you feel, the less anxious you will be. Make sure your background is plain and there’s nothing you wouldn’t want colleagues to see. Ensure you’re in a quiet space where you are unlikely to be interrupted by housemates, pets or children.
Acquaint yourself with the mute button
Unexpected noise is much more likely at home than in the office so mute your microphone when you are not speaking to avoid embarrassing attention shifts. It’s particularly obvious on Zoom because the camera may shift to you if you cough.
And remember, you're not the only one feeling uncomfortable on camera. It’s a new experience for many people and it takes a while to get used to it.
“A lot of the anxiety in lockdown comes from the novelty. Video conferencing is new to many people, and for the older generation, tech can still be intimidating,” says Dr Paul McLaren, a consultant psychiatrist at the Priory’s Wellbeing Centres across London, and medical director of the Priory Hospital, Hayes Groves.
“If you are concerned about a video-call-cum-interview, think of it this way: it may actually be less scary than having to sit opposite a panel of senior directors and HR execs in a strange and imposing office.”