The Impacts of Online Learning: mental health & zoom fatigue

May 17th, 2021. By Hadrian Barki '23

Online learning leaves many of us feeling drained and exhausted. This article explains why this happens, and how we can alleviate it.

It is with no doubt all our screen times have gone up drastically over the course of the pandemic, and that greatly increased screen time has caused a variety of phenomena, such as Zoom fatigue.

So far, there is a visible correlation between online learning and poor mental health/academic underperformance. At SI, almost 70% of SI students reported that they have seen a drop in academic performance since the pandemic started, or have felt that their mental health has declined over the school year.

It’s difficult to tell whether or not simply being on a screen has a negative impact on mental health. The toxic environments of social media platforms are well documented and the World Health Organization has coined “gaming disorder.” However, whether or not simply being on a screen affects your mental health remains highly controversial. Some studies have found a negative correlation between screen time and mental health, some have found nothing, and others have found that more screen time leads to better well-being.

Despite the uncertainty of whether or not screen time really is bad for you, “Zoom fatigue” is a very real phenomenon, analyzed by multiple studies over the pandemic. Zoom fatigue refers to the feeling of exhaustion or burnout after video calls, and many SI students have experienced a form of it over the year of online learning. Professor Jeremy Bailenson at Stanford University has identified multiple causes of Zoom fatigue, and solutions to fix or alleviate Zoom fatigue.

In a normal in-person conversation, the brain focuses on the speaker’s words and analyzes non-verbal cues. As most on a video call are only showing themselves from the shoulders up, such non-verbal cues are non-existent. The only decent facial cue is prolonged eye contact, which can feel threatening or overly intimate if held for more than a couple of seconds. Your brain quickly becomes exhausted finding these nonexistent non-verbal cues. There isn’t exactly a true solution to this issue, but putting distance between you and your screen could alleviate the eye contact problem.

Being on a video call drastically restricts our mobility, even compared to being in a classroom. The narrow field of view of your webcam or iPad forces you to stay within that spot the whole time and focus on seemingly trivial matters such as keeping your head in the frame, or remember that many gestures, such as looking off to the side, may have different meanings in an online environment. Professor Bailenson recommends people give themselves breaks from the camera, although, at SI with teachers that don’t require cameras on, everybody always has their cameras off.

A minor thing you can do to alleviate Zoom fatigue is to hide away the little rectangle showing you on camera. Bailenson says that seeing a reflection of yourself makes you more critical and self-conscious of your appearance, which obviously has a negative effect on your mental health.

While correlation does not necessarily imply causation, all of these relate to having your camera on. Many teachers at SI are lenient with having cameras on, so many students simply keep their cameras off. This is purely anecdotal, but I have noticed a correlation between my grades and classes that require cameras on. Naturally, correlation does NOT equal causation, but my lowest grade is in one of my only two classes that require cameras to be always on. However, the latter class is my second highest grade, so take this anecdote with a bucketful of salt.

Fortunately, the pandemic is drawing to a close in the United States, with 46% of the country has received one shot, and the entire country receiving a shot far before the year ends. With the upperclassmen now fully returned, the brief era of online learning slowly draws to a close, and along with it, dies Zoom fatigue.


Fauville, Geraldine, et al. “Zoom Exhaustion & Fatigue Scale.” SSRN, 23 Feb. 2021,

Ivory, Danielle, et al. “See How Vaccinations Are Going in Your County and State.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 17 Dec. 2020,

Sklar, Julia. “'Zoom Fatigue' Is Taxing the Brain. Here's Why That Happens.” Science, National Geographic, 4 May 2021,

Stanford University. “Four Causes for 'Zoom Fatigue' and Their Solutions.” Stanford News, 1 Mar. 2021,

Twenge, Jean M, and W Keith Campbell. “Associations between Screen Time and Lower Psychological Well-Being among Children and Adolescents: Evidence from a Population-Based Study.” Preventive Medicine Reports, Elsevier, 18 Oct. 2018,