February 23, 2024

Anxiety sets in when Zoom begins

My first experience with Zoom was shortly after spring semester 2020 was moved online. It was a synchronous class viewing of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. The day before, I brought home two-foster kittens to stay with my family.

During the Zoom meeting, one kitten overturned a huge bowl of popcorn in my bed. The other kitten had an accident on the couch while playing
with my children in the other room. Being my first experience with Zoom, I didn’t trust that my class was oblivious to the horrific scenes taking
place on my side of the camera.

This semester is the first I’ve had to use Zoomfor regular class meetings. Before, it had been reserved for workshops and when campus closed
after Thanksgiving.

Now I’m using Zoom every day of the week. I’ve found that I can’t look away from my own little picture-square and have an odd obsession
that I have to remain as still as a possible. I try to sneeze covertly, resulting in odd jerking motions.

I can’t touch my face. I have to slowly and cautiously fix my hair that I’m hyper-aware is sticking up at an odd angle. I can’t see non-verbal
cues from my professors or classmates, so I worry about how they perceive me.

This unique Zoom anxiety is paralyzing.There’s a distinct awkwardness when two people speak up at the same time in a Zoom meeting. The social rules are not yet established and it’s hard to know who is supposed to go first.

As in face-to-face classes, there are students who are more vocal. It is especially difficult for me to speak up in these cases. I mentally rehearse exactly what I want to say, then try to get it out as quickly as possible. However, my anxiety makes me lose my train of thought, then I freeze and am unable to finish my sentence. It looks as if Zoom glitched and froze on my end. At least that’s what I hope my professors and
classmates think.

This is fairly new and can’t help but wonder what special social rules exist for Zoom. By now, everyone knows muting your mic unless you are speaking is an expectation. Keeping it on is a social taboo. But what about one-onone meetings? I like to keep muted on my end because I’m worried about feedback and echo.

I’m also worried about my nervous habits such as kicking the desk, clicking pens or picking at paper disrupting the meeting. Does the other person see this muting as rude?

What about personal space? How close to the camera is appropriate? If someone is too close to their own camera, it feels like an invasion of
personal space. In addition to my appearance from the chest up, I’m hyper-aware that my home is suddenly coming to class with me. I worry about cleanliness and positioning the camera for my privacy. There’s also the issue of lighting and where to sit in relation to a window
or light source.

Timing is new too. How early should I show up to class? How long do I wait for a meeting to start before I decide the other person isn’t coming? Many of my classmates are not new to classes on Zoom and completely relaxed about it. I’ve seen students come to class while driving, eating, drinking and while lying in bed. I see children and pets in laps and in backgrounds in almost every class. This helps me relax because my children
and pets occasionally make appearances in my Zoom meetings.

On the first day of this semester, my professors spoke about how intimidating it is to teach to little black squares. Students are urged, if not
required, to keep their cameras on. They also spoke about how students participate much less on Zoom than they do during in-person classes.

This is true, especially for break-out rooms. Most break-out rooms I’ve been in are a painful several minutes of complete silence.

Suzanne Degges-White, Ph.D., of Psychology Today says, “The best way to get over this anxiety is by ‘exposure therapy’ of a sort. By that, I mean that sometimes we just have to jump into the deep end and turn on the camera and just smile and bear it.” She writes, we all hate to see ourselves on video and hear our recorded voices. By remembering that we are all sharing this unique anxiety, we might be able to relax into the experience.

A third of the way into this semester, I see I am starting to relax. I had a one-on-one meeting with a professor this week. I didn’t care so much about the proximity of my head to the camera while frantically taking notes. I also attended a club meeting this week, and it felt almost as comfortable and familiar as a meeting with a group in person (which, for me, is still anxiety ridden).

I know the longe I attend classes, the easier it will be. Until I’m fully used to Zoom, I will continue to have a good sense of humor about my anxiety.