Do video calls make you anxious? You are not alone in this! Video call anxiety is a very real thing and it’s especially common among introverts and people with social anxiety or other anxiety disorders – but it can affect anybody.
Very often, people find video calling more stressful and tiring than socialising in real life. I recommend looking up the science behind this because it’s really interesting. However, I won’t go into that here. The purpose of this post is to help you reduce video call anxiety as much as possible, and cope with it when it happens.
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The difference between video calls and in-person interaction
A significant difference between video calls and in-person meets is that there is less outside stimulation in a video call. It’s literally just you and the other person chatting. Whereas, if you met in person, you would do activities together which would provide other stimulation and sources of conversation.
For example, even if you were just meeting a friend in a coffee shop for a chat, you would perhaps meet at the car park, pay for parking together, walk together through the town, order drinks and perhaps food, and be surrounded by other customers and activity. All these things would provide natural conversation topics as you comment on what’s going on around you. There would also be natural pauses in the conversation while you do practical tasks.
In video calls, there is far less outside stimulation and distraction. Perhaps counterintuitively, this makes the video calls more exhausting. You have to focus on a conversation for an extended period of time with no breaks for other activities. Any pauses can be awkward because there is nothing to fill in the gaps.
How to create a more interactive environment during video calls
A good solution to this lack of stimulation is to bring in some extra activities or sensory inputs to the video call. Here are some suggestions:
1. Get yourself a drink and a snack
This will imitate being in a coffee shop and it will provide variety by giving you another pleasant focus in addition to the conversation.
2. Have some props or souvenirs nearby
As well as drinks and snacks, you can also have some props or souvenirs nearby to show your friend(s) or family on the video call. For example, if you have been doing some crafting lately, have your creations nearby to show your friend(s). Or if you have recently bought something new or received a gift, show it. This will provide another dimension to the conversation.
3. Plan an activity
Another option is to literally plan an activity to do with your friend(s), instead of just chatting for the whole call. You could organise a quiz, show and reminisce over old photos of yourselves, or play a board game.
There is a great site called Board Game Arena (referral link) where you can play board games over the internet with your friends. I often play a game with a friend on there whilst also video calling them at the same time. I like doing this because I can still chat with my friend intermittently whilst we are playing, but it feels more natural because we are doing a stimulating activity at the same time.
4. Sit further back and engage with your environment
In general, it’s a good idea to sit far back from the screen when you are video calling. This will feel more natural and relaxed, because, when you think about it, if you were meeting in-person you would not sit with your face right up to theirs. So why sit with your face right up to the screen?
Sitting back in your chair will also help you to engage more with the environment around you. Obviously, your focus should be on the person you are talking to, but it’s okay to have an awareness of your surroundings too. This could actually provide some conversation topics. For example, if you hear a noise coming from somewhere else in the house or outside, you could comment to your friend about it.
5. Invite a pet or another person into the call
If your pet or another person comes nearby, you could invite them over to say hello. This will ease the social pressure by adding another person or an animal, and will also serve as a distraction and conversation topic. Also, many people, myself included, just find it calming to have a pet nearby.
6. Play background music
You could create a social atmosphere by playing some quiet background music. Obviously, this should be quiet so that you can still hear the other person talking! This will not work for everyone because some people would find the music distracting. But for others, it could be a good way to break the tension and fill in any pauses.
Summary – Creating an Interactive Environment
- Bring a drink and a snack, and top these up when desired throughout the call.
- Have props or souvenirs nearby to show your friend(s).
- Plan an activity such as a quiz or board game.
- Sit back and engage more with the environment around you, rather than sitting too close and being glued to the screen.
- Call your pet, or a family member, over to say hello.
- Play some quiet background music if you think it would help.
Dealing with group video calls
Group calls can be especially challenging. I often find myself not joining in much with the conversation and feeling a bit left out because I don’t know what to say, or everyone else’s voices are just dominant. Can you relate to this?
Why are group video calls so difficult?
Group video calls are a totally different dynamic to meeting with a group of friends in person. When you meet in person, people usually break off and have conversations in pairs or smaller groups. In group video calls, you can’t do that! Only one conversation can happen at once. Therefore when it’s your turn to speak, all eyes are on you and everyone is listening to you. This is an uncomfortable experience for many individuals who would not normally speak out to a whole group during face-to-face events.
In in-person meets, on occasions when the whole group is actually engaged in a single conversation together, certain people tend to be dominant over the conversation and others are quieter. I am definitely one of those that would tend to go quiet and not contribute much in larger group conversations – I am happy to listen.
A group video call is going to have a similar dynamic to that. If your normal character in a group conversation is to be quiet, then that is going to be your normal character in a group video call too. So don’t feel bad if you are not talking much. That is normal for you! So be kind to yourself and don’t put too much pressure on yourself to talk. Just enjoy listening to your friends and put in your contribution when you naturally have a response – but don’t force it.
It’s likely that no-one will notice or think much of the fact you are being quiet because that is how you normally are in group conversations.
Waiting to be addressed in group calls
Another thing I find difficult about group calls is if I know I am going to be addressed at some point, especially if it is a more formal call. An example of this would be if I know I will be asked to introduce myself to the group. The anticipation of waiting for that address makes me nervous.
In a face-to-face situation, this wouldn’t normally be an issue because, a) I probably wouldn’t have to introduce myself in front of the whole group at once and b) Even if I did, I would be able to chat one-on-one with people while I am waiting for that moment, which would help to release the tension.
If you also get nervous when you know you are going to be addressed, the following suggestions that might help you to relieve this anticipation:
- Focus on listening intently to the current conversation, to distract yourself from your own thoughts and worries.
- Get it over and done with by introducing yourself to the group before you are asked to.
- Try to join in more with the conversation, even if it’s just small contributions, so that you have warmed yourself up to talking to the group.
To learn more about these strategies, you might like to read this post Anticipatory Anxiety, and How to Make it Go Away where I go into more depth on this topic.
How to prepare for a video call
Video calls can tend to go more smoothly if you are prepared in advance. Here are some practical ways to prepare for a video call.
1. Work out how to get rid of your face from the corner
I find it distracting having my little face in the corner of the screen during video calls. I tend to keep checking it to see how I look and what facial expression I am making, instead of focusing on the person I’m talking to. If you do this too, you might benefit from removing your face from the screen entirely, as soon as the call starts.
I usually use Facebook Messenger for video calls. On a computer, there is an arrow next to your face that you can easily press to hide it. Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to work on a phone.
It should be possible to hide your face in Skype, Zoom and other video programs too. But if, for some reason, you are unable to hide your face, there are a few workarounds. If you are video calling on your laptop, you can move the window to one side of the screen so that your face is hidden, or bring up another window in front of the corner to hide it. If you are on full screen, literally put a post-it note over your face. They won’t know!
2. Have a trial call
Have a trial call with somebody you are comfortable with such as a significant other. This way, you can make sure the technology is working how you want it to, and that you are happy with the camera angle and lighting.
3. Prepare some items to have nearby
If you tend to get anxious during video calls, it can help to have certain items at hand to calm or distract you. These could include drinks, snacks, something to fiddle with (such as a hairband), rescue remedy spray or any other anxiety remedies you might need.
4. Decide what to wear
When deciding what to wear, remember to think about temperature as well as looks. It’s a good idea to wear layer-able clothes. I tend to get hot when I am nervous so I usually wear cooler clothes for a video call, but I have extra cardigans within reach so that if I get cold later on, I can easily layer up.
I also suggest opening the window if you think you will get hot during a video call. You can always close it later on, which will provide a good mini-break during the call.
5. Tidy your space
Tidy up and remove clutter from the space where you are video calling. I like to do this before a video call because my mind feels calmer when my surroundings are more organised.
6. Make a list of conversation topics
It’s a good idea to make a list of possible conversation topics to talk about. These could include interesting things that have happened recently in your life, as well as questions to ask your friend(s). Then, if the conversation runs dry at any point, you can glance at your list to get an idea.
You could have your list on a post-it on the wall in front of you so it is not too obvious that you are glancing at a list. Or you could review your list when the other person goes to the loo or gets a drink.
Don’t worry about not having enough to talk about!
When I video call friends, especially during lockdown, I often feel as though I don’t have anything to talk about because I simply haven’t done much recently. I worry that the other person will have done lots of exciting things but I will have nothing to contribute to the conversation. It’s important to remember that we are all in the same boat at the moment and most people will have done limited things during lockdown to talk about.
However, in general, even if I think we won’t have much to talk about, the conversation usually just flows and we end up talking for ages on topics that I didn’t even think of before, or that the other person instigated. We rarely actually run out of things to talk about. If I have made a list of conversation topics in advance, I often find afterward that there are several topics on there we didn’t even get on to.
So don’t worry – conversation usually flows more naturally than you expect, and conversation topics do arise!
Even if you do run out of things to talk about, there’s nothing wrong with ending the call a little early and agreeing to catch-up again soon. If the conversation has truly run dry on both ends then the other person will probably find this a relief too, so they won’t be offended.
7. Plan what to say in a formal call
If it is a more formal call such as a work call or an interview, you can plan in advance what you are going to say. If you will need to introduce yourself, you can prepare your lines beforehand and maybe have them on a post-it note behind your screen. You can also note down or memorise answers to any questions you might get asked. This will prevent you from having to think on the spot when you are potentially feeling anxious.
8. Raise your laptop to a comfortable eye level
I stack some large books underneath my laptop to make it higher. This allows me to relax back on my chair and see the other person at a similar eye-level to if we were talking in real life, rather than looking down at them.
If your screen is too low, it encourages you to slump forward into a closed up posture which actually can make you feel less confident. In my post about boosting your immune system, I mentioned ‘power posing’ which essentially means adopting an open and spacious pose. Power posing can literally change the balance of hormones in your body and make you feel more confident. Check out the above post to learn more about how power posing works.
Sitting back in your chair with an open pose is therefore likely to make you feel more relaxed and confident, and having a higher screen will help with that. As I mentioned earlier, sitting back also prevents you from feeling glued to your screen, and helps you engage more with your environment.
9. Charge all your devices
Surprisingly often, I end up switching devices in a video call. Possible reasons for this include:
- Getting a bad internet connection on a particular device.
- Experiencing technical problems on a particular device.
- The other person wants to use a different program and I only have it installed on a different device.
- I want to switch from my laptop to my phone to make it portable, for showing them something.
So it’s a good idea to make sure all your devices (phone, tablet, laptop) are charged and nearby in case you want to switch over and use them.
What to do if you feel anxious during a video call
Usually, I find that I am the most nervous before a video call starts. Once I get into it, I start to feel calmer. However, there are times when the anxiety persists or returns later on in the call. Here is some advice to help you cope if that happens.
1. Take breaks when you need them
If you are feeling overwhelmed and need a break, you can excuse yourself to go to the loo or get a drink. You can do this even if you don’t really need the loo or a drink – there’s no harm in grabbing a glass of water to drink later. Little breaks can be refreshing. When you meet up with someone in person, there are usually multiple small breaks while someone goes to the loo or gets a drink, etc., so video calls can be the same.
In fact, it’s a good idea to start the call with a big cup of tea or whatever your preferred drink, because that will MAKE you need the toilet within the hour! Being well hydrated is a good idea anyway, so you can’t go wrong with this tip.
2. Remind yourself of past video calls that you have enjoyed
Remember times in the past when you have got past the initial nerves of a video call, and enjoyed it. Let this reassure you that the same will probably happen this time and you will be fine!
3. It’s okay to take a minute to just breathe
Silences may seem more awkward during a video call than in-person because there is less going on in your environment. However, there is actually nothing wrong with taking a short pause just to breathe and collect your thoughts. If you do this deliberately and with a smile, then you will appear confident and happy, so the pause won’t seem so awkward to the other person. Maybe turn your head and look out the window, so they will just think you have been momentarily distracted by something that is going on outside.
4. Focus on the other person
Focus and listen to the other person, not on yourself or your anxious feelings. Try to immerse yourself in what the person is saying and look at them. As mentioned earlier, it’s helpful to hide your face from the corner of the screen. This will make it easier for you to focus on the other person instead of being self-conscious about how you look.
5. Don’t overthink it!
Chances are that when you have been video calling people in the past, lots of them have had unflattering camera angles, technical problems and awkward moments. You probably didn’t even notice, let alone think badly of them. So nobody is really going to notice or care what you look like or do on camera!
Related post: Tips for Dealing with Pre-Performance Anxiety and Nerves
Good luck with your video calls!
I hope this post has been helpful and given you lots of ideas for how to overcome video call anxiety. Is there anything else you do before or during a video call to make it a more comfortable and enjoyable experience? Let me know in the comments!