With the implementation of a lockdown due to COVID-19, use of video calls has increased significantly.
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Whether it’s for medical appointments, work-related meetings, or even just maintaining contact with friends or family members, video calls have helped us to keep the world turning while face-to-face contact was restricted.
Video calls offer plenty of benefits, for example, people have been able to work from home, thus eliminating the need to commute and reducing the need for childcare. It has also allowed for remote learning so students can graduate on time.
This ability to work and study remotely is also beneficial for those who face barriers to on-site working or on-campus studying, such as the lack of accessibility and flexibility for disabled people.
It’s disappointing that it has taken a pandemic to force organisations to offer this accessibility that disabled people have been persistently denied… but that’s another story.
However, despite these benefits, there are also some drawbacks to the increased use of video calls in place of face-to-face interaction.
One of those drawbacks is that for those like me who struggle with anxiety (I have an anxiety disorder), video calls can be incredibly difficult. Some people experience a high level of anxiety before and during video calls. At its worst, these calls can incite panic.
But it seems that video calls are here to stay.
Whilst video calls were initially meant to temporarily replace face-to-face contact, many organisations decided to stick with it even after the lockdown was lifted.
I have mixed feelings about this.
I’m glad that video calls offer better accessibility for those who need it, but I can’t help but feel that the ability to connect online should be an option, not a default. Basically, I think we should be able to choose whether we use video calls or meet in person – or at least compromise a mix of the two.
However, for now at least, it seems that isn’t the way it’s going to go.
So, if we have to take part in video calls, what can we do to reduce this anxiety?
#1. Explain your needs.
If possible, inform the other participant(s) that you are anxious. Contrary to popular belief, most people are kind! If they know that you’re experiencing anxiety, they will want to do what they can to help alleviate it as much as possible.
Explain your needs; for example, you could ask them to speak slowly and clearly, advise that you may need to take short breaks, or request that the call come to a close after a pre-agreed length of time.
#2. Write it down (before the call).
Before the video call, write down some bullet points of what you want to talk about. Even if you don’t stick strictly to your notes, it can help to have something to refer to in order to reduce any anxiety about forgetting to mention something due to getting flustered or overwhelmed.
#3. Do not disturb.
Make sure that you’ve made anyone else in your home aware that you are going to be on a call and ask not to be disturbed.
Making a point to establish this can help to reduce disturbances and hence reduce anxiety about being humiliated by something entering the room and saying something embarrassing in earshot of the video call!
For some, this may include making sure any pets are out of the room so they don’t interrupt your call. Nonetheless, for others, it may be beneficial to keep your pet in the room if they help to ease your anxiety, as many people find they do. Plus, who doesn’t enjoy the odd interjection from an adorable animal companion?
One of the symptoms of anxiety that I experience is restlessness and feeling the need to fidget. I also experience anxiety about being thought strange for fidgeting so much!
In order to channel my need to fidget without awkwardly shifting around in my seat, I keep a pen in my hand and play with it (out of view of the webcam). I also find being able to freely fidget has a calming effect on me and helps me to concentrate.
#5. Have a cuppa.
Okay, so it doesn’t have to be a cuppa, but make sure you have a drink next to you for during the call. When I feel anxious, my mouth goes very dry and it can affect my ability to speak. Keeping a drink nearby helps me to tackle the dry mouth.
What’s more, if I need a second or two to consider and formulate my response, I can take a sip of my drink and not feel embarrassed about the pause – again, reducing my anxiety.
#6. Write it down (during the call).
Similar to #2, keep a notepad and pen next to you so you can make a note of important details or perhaps something you didn’t quite catch or understand so you remember to ask about it when the speaker has finished what they’re saying.
This can reduce anxiety about a) forgetting things and b) having to try to interject to ask a question while the other participant is speaking.
I know how frustrating it can be when people suggest breathing exercises as a cure-all for anxiety, but in certain situations and for some people, they genuinely can help.
If you find breathing exercises helpful or if you are willing to give it a go, just before a video call would be a good time to do one. Even something as simple as pausing to take three deep breaths can help to calm your body and slow down your racing thoughts.
#8. Relax your muscles.
If you start to notice your anxiety increasing during the call, tense all your muscles as hard as you can (i.e. clench your fists, make your body rigid) for a few seconds then release them.
You can do this stealthily without the other participant(s) even noticing. Just wait for when someone else is speaking and you have a few seconds when you don’t have to respond.
Tensing our muscles then releasing them feels physically relaxing and this, in turn, can relax our minds.
For some of us – myself included – video calls are never going to be something we enjoy; far from it.
However, I hope that these tips can be of some use to reduce some of the symptoms of anxiety many of us experience due to video calls and make them more manageable (or at least bearable) for those who struggle with them.
Note: If your anxiety feels unmanageable and is affecting your quality of life, please speak to your GP or follow your care plan if you are under the Community Mental Health Team. If there is an immediate risk to life and/or safety, please call 999 or present yourself at A&E.
How do you feel about the increased use of video calls?
Do you have any more tips for reducing video call anxiety?
Feel free to share your suggestions in the comments blow.