Are you working remotely and spending more time on video calls? Or catching up with friends and family in online group chats, which leave you exhausted? You’re not alone – listening fatigue is common.
Katie, a cochlear implant recipient says getting ready for a day of video conferencing ‘feels like preparing to ride a bike uphill through peanut butter.’
‘I have access to captions and streaming but, when I’m participating in group conversations, I am routinely off pace from everyone else – it’s too fast and unpredictable,’ she says, adding that by the end of the day she is exhausted.
‘It’s the tiredness you can’t fight even when you try, when you can’t keep your eyes open. I don’t think I’ve been this tired since I first got my cochlear implants back in 2014,’ says Katie, who works for Cochlear in Sydney.
Adapting to a new normal
While many people started working remotely and video conferencing more frequently during the COVID-19 pandemic, virtual conversations and group chats are becoming the new normal.
And that trend could rise as friends and family who live apart increasingly turn to virtual catch ups to feel connected. Researchers have found working remotely can be more productive across the workforce1, which could see video conferencing become more common.
But these types of interactions can be extremely hard on the brain for people with hearing loss, who are concentrating to follow and understand the conversation.
With your view of the speaker talking limited to the computer screen, it’s hard to rely on important communication cues that increase comprehension – facial expressions, body language, hand gestures and movements that indicate who is speaking.
‘Spending so much time listening without all the cues that come with face to face conversation is intense. Even though it’s useless, I am leaning in hoping to get just a little more information so I can put the words together and make sense of the conversation before the next sentence comes,’ says Katie.
Also, virtual chats and video conferencing don’t really allow for those pauses in conversation that you might experience normally; the video calls have lag times and people speak over each other, or not at all.
So how can you manage the additional listening fatigue associated with hearing loss that often comes with working remotely?
Many different factors impact listening effort, such as the noise in the room, how tired you were when the day started, the difficulty or newness of the information being presented, and so on. Here are some tips to help you manage listening fatigue:
Make the most of your technology
The better the signal you are listening to, the less fatigue you may experience. Get to know your sound processor and make sure you use the features available, like streaming sound – for Nucleus® Sound Processors, for Baha® Sound Processors.
Try an automatic web-based speech recognition tool to provide captioning for virtual meetings. Web Captioner and Otter.ai, are examples of web-based services that may be used in conjunction with your video conferencing app. Try these or other services and see what works best for you.
Take care of yourself
It sounds simple, but self-care is an important factor in managing listening fatigue. Manage your energy levels by eating well and getting enough sleep.
Maintain work-life balance
Establish your work hours and maintain a barrier between work and home life to stay productive and manage fatigue. Ensure your work hours don’t take over personal and family time.
Manage and prioritise your tasks
To give yourself time to recharge, balance your day by scheduling tasks that don’t require intensive listening among those that do. Prioritise activities to ensure you will have enough energy for those listening-based tasks, which are ranked highest on your “to do” list.
Take regular breaks
If you are straining from listening, take a short break to relax and take a rest from intensive listening whenever you can. Stepping away and tuning out for a short while helps to reduce overstimulation as well as helping to de-stress and refresh.
1 Bloom N, Liang J, Roberts J, Ying ZJ. Does working from home work? Evidence from a Chinese experiment. Q J Econ. 2015 Feb;130(1):165-218.