Online Fatigue

Photo by Niklas Hamann on Unsplash

Are you feeling lethargic? Do you have more headaches than usual?  Do your eyes hurt? Are you struggling with self-esteem issues, anxiety, or depression?  If so, you could be experiencing “online fatigue,” sometimes called “zoom fatigue.”

Many of us are still teaching remotely or are adapting to a hybrid model. Not only do we plan our lessons online, but we teach, grade papers, meet with students, attend faculty meetings, and do PD online. Not to mention the time spent learning new digital teaching tools, texting, watching Netflix and shopping online. That’s a ton of screen time!

While the virtual world brings obvious benefits and conveniences to our classrooms and daily lives, we need to be more aware of its risks, not just for ourselves, but also for our students.

What are the consequences of online fatigue?

  • Physical health

Firstly, we are not moving enough. Think of the daily exercise that we had before the pandemic such as riding our bikes to school, running to catch the streetcar, racing down the hallways to class, grabbing a coffee, or going to lunch with friends. Instead, we are rooted to our chairs for hours.

According to Statistics Canada, only one in five Canadians were hitting the recommended physical activity targets before COVID, so it is no doubt worse now. Research on the effects of screen time shows being immobile for excessive periods increases the risk of obesity.

Another point to consider is that our head weighs roughly 12 pounds, and tilting it downward toward the screen produces a force of roughly 60 pounds on our neck! To avoid this, experts suggest using a riser to adjust your monitor to a more comfortable height at eye level.

  • Motivation

Another consequence of “online fatigue” is reduced motivation. Student attendance is decreasing while burnout is increasing. Last week, I did a class poll to see how many were struggling with screen fatigue to which I received a unanimous “yes”. This prompted me to look into the matter further.

Nancy Heath, a professor of educational and counselling psychology at McGill University, confirms what my students are experiencing. Heath said students are “at an all-time low,” and that any resolve they had shown at the beginning of the pandemic has been replaced with fatigue and diminished coping resources (Global News, 2021).

Similarly, an American survey conducted in 2021 showed that close to three-quarters of teachers have low morale and more than half of students studying remotely are no longer motivated to do well. Interestingly, those in a hybrid format are also less motivated.

  • Mental health

Wilfrid Laurier University conducted a literature review that spanned articles from 14 countries that explored the effects of screen time on children and young adults. The results showed a dire correlation between increased screen time and mental health, including lower self-esteem, intensified mental health issues, addictions, slower levels of learning and acquisition, and even a risk of early onset cognitive decline (Neophytou et al., 2021).

Along with these disturbing findings are issues of smart phone addiction, substance addiction, and internet addiction. In addition, with the vast increase in video conferencing  people are anxious about how they look and act on screen. Studies suggest that this weighs more heavily on some than others. In fact, The University of Gothenburg surveyed 10,500 people and found that video conferencing negatively affects women, youth, and non-whites disproportionally (The Economist, 2021).

What can we do about it?

  • Start by reducing screen time and allowing more time to exercise
  • Cut back on meetings and workshops
  • Integrate “brain breaks” into your classes

Taking a “brain break” can rejuvenate the mental processes and keep students on task. Recently, I posted mandalas for my class to print and colour during down times. Another option is to put on some music and have everyone do jumping jacks. I am sure that there is a myriad of creative ideas out there. How about a “spin-the-break wheel” game created by the students that prompts a different activity based on wherever it lands?

Teaching, learning, and playing online offers endless opportunities. We just need to know when to rein it in. I would love to hear other ideas for “brain-breaks” or coping with online fatigue. Please add them in the comments below.


Global News (2021). Morale at an ‘all-time low’: Post-secondary students grapple with COVID-19 fatigue.

Neophytou, E., Manwell, L.A. & Eikelboom, R. Effects of Excessive Screen Time on Neurodevelopment, Learning, Memory, Mental Health, and Neurodegeneration: a Scoping Review. Int J Ment Health Addiction 19, 724–744 (2021).

Statistics Canada (2021) Exercise and Screen Time During the Covid-19 Pandemic.

The Economist (2021) A new study suggests that “Zoom fatigue” is worse for women than men: Daily chart.

I’m Jennifer Hutchison and I teach EAP and communications at George Brown College in Toronto. I have also taught courses in sociolinguistics in the English Foundation Program at Toronto Metropolitan University. In my spare time, I write short stories, read, exercise, and bake (the last two are codependent). Teaching English is my passion. I am curious about the world around me and feel fortunate to have that world brought to me every day in the classroom. Nevertheless, I took a circuitous route to discover this passion. After my undergraduate degree in French and translation, I worked as a translator and then veered off into writing and editing, which I did from home while I raised my children (four of them!). In none of these positions (except, possibly, childrearing) was I helping anybody, so I returned to school, launched my ESL career, and have never looked back. I look forward to working with you and sharing experiences and strategies on the Blog!


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