How Too Much Time On Zoom Can Affect Your Mental Health


With quarantine came a bunch of interesting side effects. Everyone, including people in advertisements, is masked; people learn to bake bread or surf, or bake more bread. But take a look at the “shitshow” on the ultra-trusted Urban Dictionary, and it would define the state of collective mental health in the COVID age.

The trigger is the lesser of these. Maybe you got to the bottom of the water early on a little over a year ago, or the long game feels like it’s slowly eroding your neural programming. Either way, psychotherapist Dr. Allie Kauffman, Associate Marriage and Family Therapist says it’s not just in your head. She says we’re vulnerable to “zoom dysmorphia” (regular Zoom-like body distortion) in our constant state of digital engagement, as well as the good old “comparison game” that comes with social media overtime.

One of the biggest energy changes has been the break in life itself. As most offices close and people have to live their lives in the bubble of their workspace, many of us have felt a strong sense of isolation. “Quarantine has put an end to the careers or hobbies of many people,” said Dr. Kauffman. “Either their career is really different from what it was in person, or they had to stop doing community hobbies… It kind of creates a loss of community that can increase depression or a loss of identity. A lot of people relate to their careers as… a very important part of how they see themselves…. ”

It is all the easier for those who do not know what mental illnesses or eating disorders look like to fall victim to their spells. The Renfrew Center treats mental illness, and more specifically eating disorders, at their facilities across the United States. Their location in Los Angeles is where Dr. Kauffman works his magic as a primary therapist.

She has seen some models of treating patients during the pandemic. “If life has slowed down a lot because of the pandemic, and [people are] used to rushing around and not having to think about some of those more difficult identity questions, and then in the slow pace of the pandemic, things that they may have put aside or not looked at sort of go back to the surface, ”says Dr. Kauffman. “Who am I when I don’t do this thing?“” While the pre-pandemic rhythm allowed for more fun and less self-reflection, unfortunately, according to Dr. Kauffman, life’s ignored problems don’t just go away. Pity!

“What we often see with eating disorders is that clients are in control of their diet or are very rigid in terms of when or what types of places they will go, what foods they will eat, of clothes they will wear, ”said Dr. Kauffman said. “I think a red flag is that you are trying to control your external environment to try to control your internal environment.”

Another common tactic for gaining control of the blues is not to feel anything at all. “I tell my clients that depression isn’t really an emotion, it’s more of a state of being after you’ve pushed or not looked at your emotions for a long time,” said Dr. Kauffman. “Often when life is really hard, we push back thoughts that are uncomfortable, we push back uncomfortable emotions, and it actually creates or reinforces feelings of depression. These patterns are probably more common than many of us would like to admit. I would like to meet who among us has not looked at ourselves in the mirror at least once and said to ourselves: “who is this? ”

For OJ Bushell, writer and queer non-binary individual, a lot has been crammed onto their sanity plate. “As I work to understand my gender identity, I face the effects of experiencing both body dysmorphia and gender dysphoria simultaneously,” they wrote.

In the Huffington Post, Medium, and more, OJ writes about their journey from painfully conforming to traditional female beauty standards before discovering their gender identity and sexuality. As a double whammy, messy eating thoughts manifested themselves in OJ as early as age 9, but it would take much longer before symptoms became so pronounced that OJ couldn’t rule them out.

“I had been white to make my way, and once I made it through [grad school], my depression and eating disorder turned on together, and this was the first time I was hospitalized. I think I realized I needed outside help when my ability to function became so compromised and my physical health was in danger, ”they write. It was then that OJ went to the Renfrew Center.

This can be a very difficult step for people to take. Depending on a person’s identity, their experience with the more advanced professional mental health environments may vary. “Residential treatment, while helpful in many ways, has also been a challenge as a queer person,” OJ said. “Even programs that say they’re non-sexist don’t often assert non-binary trans identities, and programming isn’t usually created with us in mind. I have often felt excluded from the treatment of which I am a part.

OJ’s experiences give a voice to those who are queer and non-binary and seek mental health care; even those who are blessed enough to be able to seek professional help when they need it may very well run into the psychic world scratching the surface on the mental functioning of the marginalized.

Since its inception, the bible of psychology, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), has been written by straight whites for straight whites. For example, right now DSM 5 is current, while DSM 3 had to remove homosexuality as a pathology and release a second edition, which is as recent as the 70s. True, the disco era has officially declared that homosexuality is NOT a disease.

This is also not the cause of one! “I want people to understand that gay people don’t have a mental illness because they’re gay,” OJ said. “There’s usually an increased risk… of eating disorders and mental illnesses in people. queer communities because of the systemic oppression we face… discrimination, bullying, micro-aggression, etc. But my gender and my sexuality are not the cause of my mental illnesses. ”

Dr Kauffman also notes the barriers marginalized people face historically and today when seeking professional mental health help. “Unfortunately, I think many healthcare professionals buy into our culture’s stigma that eating disorders are disorders that only white, thin, cisgender women know about… Plus, I think for many communities of color, there is a stigma around mental health services as there is a history of racism and oppression in the field of psychology that has created fear and shame around POC asking for help.

Organized mental health treatment for everyone including POC, queer, trans, non-binary and other folx may be a thing of the future, but we’re getting there (and towards Mars, apparently!) One day at a time. Dr Allie and the rest of the Renfrew Centers are just one mental health collective among many who do the daily job of “holding and naming the stories of oppression in therapy, while actively trying to change that perception and create a healing experience when it comes to the therapeutic relationship, ”she said.

Help really belongs to whoever wants it, as long as a person is ready to come forward (even digitally!) The inner work can still be done.

* First names used only to protect anonymity

story / Tatiana Louder

graphic / Nadia Bormotova

editor / Sam Berlin

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