Coping with Video Call Anxiety

A woman sitting on a couch with a laptop in her lap

What were “unprecedented times” in March are now a “new normal.” Many of us have taken our lives almost entirely to our screens, relying on video calls for everything from work meetings to happy hours to telehealth appointments. The COVID-19 pandemic continues to touch nearly every aspect of daily life.

Though now ubiquitous, video calls are still uncomfortable for many and downright distressing for others. Those who struggle with anxiety or body image disturbance may find themselves filled with worry, dread, or self-consciousness upon clicking “Accept” to such a call. The idea or reality of being on camera can trigger distorted thoughts and urges to engage in disordered behaviors.

Self-criticism and negative self-talk may stem from several sources, including:

  • our judgment of ourselves on camera
  • the perceived judgment of and comparison to others on the video call
  • the perceived judgment of others nearby but not on the call

While we still cannot predict the timeframe of this “new normal,” we can try to adapt to it while we’re in it. We can prefer in-person appointments and adapt to video ones, especially as it seems likely that they will be part of our lives for the foreseeable future. To protect our mental health and recovery, we can prepare for the ways an eating disorder may try to take advantage of these calls and arm ourselves with tools to counteract self-criticism and the urges and behaviors that often follow.

Here are some tips to help manage these potentially triggering calls in our personal and professional lives.

How to Prepare for Video Calls

Adjust your video settings.

If the self-facing camera sparks negative thoughts, consider what adjustments you can make to conceal or deemphasize your view of your own image. Perhaps you can hide your reflection from your view altogether, minimize it in a gallery view of small thumbnails, or drag it to a less visible part of your computer screen. A small image at the bottom corner of the screen, for example, may be easier to ignore than one at eye level.

If your video platform does not allow you to hide or reposition the image of yourself, consider how you may be able to achieve similar results without technology. Perhaps you cover your image with a post-it affirmation or place your device farther away from your immediate view.

Treat the video call as you would an in-person meeting.

Given the mirror of self-facing cameras, we’re simply more aware of how we appear to others in video chats than in in-person ones. And this increased awareness can be incredibly distracting. In the face of it, we can refocus our attention on the things we notice in traditional meetings or appointments.

Give the speaker your undivided attention, listening actively and using nonverbals you would use offline. Fully engage. Really try to connect. Each time you notice yourself veering over to your image, remind yourself of the purpose of the particular meeting. Odds are that you’re there to find support for your recovery challenges or to discuss a work project, not to look “perfect” on camera.

To minimize any anxiety about speaking on camera, prepare as you would for any other meeting. Perhaps you rehearse your presentation a bit beforehand, or prep some notes to rely upon if needed.

Consider the video call an experience in exposure.

If there are moments where viewing your image isn’t completely debilitating, lean in to these as opportunities to challenge your discomfort. What negative thoughts do you have upon seeing your image? What fears do you hold about others seeing you? How quickly does your eating disorder offer a “solution” or harsh reprimand in response to these fears and thoughts?

If appropriate (as in a therapy appointment or support group, for example), consider sharing these thoughts and feelings on the call. If not appropriate at the time, perhaps you can jot down some notes and save them for a later discussion with your support system. By bringing these concerns to light and exploring the ways they can trigger disordered behaviors, you might lessen the impact with each exposure.

Protect your privacy.

Use earphones to stay present in each call and protect your privacy from people who may be nearby. If you fear others overhearing your side of the conversation as well, consider holding video calls at times or in locations when these people aren’t around. Perhaps you and your housemates can designate safe spots for these calls or brainstorm locations outside of the home where you may be able to take them (such as a vehicle).

Set boundaries around video calls.

By turning on our cameras at home, we also invite people into our house. This doesn’t mean we cannot set parameters around this invitation, however.

Set some boundaries! Request that your work colleagues call within an agreed-upon time frame or give you notice before video-calling. If you need a break from your screen, perhaps you propose that your friends hold your weekly chats via telephone every other week. Know that you are allowed to ask for whatever is best for you.

For more intensive eating disorder support for you or a loved one, contact The Emily Program at 1-888-364-5977 today.

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