Why Zoom and ADHD Don’t Mix

Distracted woman sitting at desk with laptop and coffee cup

Where would we be without Zoom these days? Ever since we’ve been working from home and putting our kids in online classes, virtual technology has been a fixture in our lives. Yet at the same time, many people complain of Zoom fatigue, or the sense of “brain drain” that occurs after being on endless video calls back to back. 

Not only that, but for those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), this strange new world of onscreen interactions can feel even worse. Why?

In this post, Dr. Kamala Thomas and Susan McIntryre, LMFT help to shed some light on how our current Zoom culture might affect you if you have ADHD — and how you can improve your experience.

Challenges with Zoom and ADHD

First, the Zoom environment presents you with many more distractions than your offline world. This makes things much harder because “people with ADHD already experience an increase in distractibility,” says McIntyre. 

So imagine your level of distraction being heightened even more online, from all the technical difficulties that happen to visual distractions onscreen like people’s pets, kids, and background decor. 

As if that weren’t bad enough, you need to ignore the distractions in your own environment too, which is difficult. Explains Thomas, “You have to use more energy to focus and inhibit distractions in the room. When you’re on Zoom all day and there are so many things in the room that might get your attention as opposed to this small [area onscreen] you’re looking at, it’s easier to drift.” 

That small window also makes it hard to read visual body language cues, which can be especially draining, according to Thomas. Not being able to see someone’s entire body onscreen means you have to stay zeroed in on their face — and it takes much more energy for someone with ADHD to read a person that way.

McIntyre adds that Zoom lacks the sense of personal connection that those with ADHD count on in order to remain engaged. “In-person meetings offer an energy exchange that only occurs by being in a shared space,” she says. “Zoom meetings basically lack the emotional and energetic exchange available during in-person meetings. This exchange offers vital stimulation to keep people with ADHD engaged and emotionally invested in the content of the meeting.”

To top it all off, the anxiety and depression caused by the pandemic generally exacerbate ADHD symptoms. Thomas says it does this by affecting the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which controls executive functions like attention, focus, working memory, and impulse control.

“Anxiety reduces activity in this brain region, which in turn worsens ADHD symptoms,” explains Thomas. “Thus, pandemic anxiety is worsening ADHD symptoms and likely making it harder for people with ADHD to focus on Zoom.”

So considering all of these issues with Zoom and ADHD, how can you improve the situation before it becomes too overwhelming?

How to better handle life with Zoom and ADHD 

If you struggle with balancing Zoom and ADHD, Thomas suggests taking short, regular breaks from screens every couple of hours. “If you can walk outside for a few minutes, just the change of pace and scenery can be very helpful for the brain,” she says. 

While this can be hard during the pandemic when we’re so used to staying cooped up inside, she says it is worth trying to make this a conscious effort. But if you can’t go outside, Thomas recommends doing something enjoyable during that break regardless — even if it simply involves meditating for a few minutes in another room.

Finally, therapy can also help, says Thomas, especially if you feel anxiety and/or depression are making your ADHD symptoms worse. She points out that a therapist can also provide ADHD coaching to help you manage ADHD symptoms.

Having trouble with Zoom and ADHD? Call us today

Dealing with Zoom and ADHD isn’t easy, but reaching out to a therapist can help you understand your condition and how it interacts with today’s technology. 

Our providers at Orange County Health Psychologists are eager and ready to help. Give our office a call today at 949.528.6300 or email info@OCHealthPsych.com to make your first appointment either virtually or in person.

 —Written by Ekua Hagan for Orange County Health Psychologists 

About KaMala Thomas, PhD

Kamala Thomas

Dr. Thomas is a clinical health psychologist who provides specialized psychological testing, assessment, and treatment of ADD/ADHD, in addition to psychotherapy to address the symptoms and impact of ADD/ADHD on daily life and wellbeing.

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KaMala Thomas, PhD
CA License #PSY27371


About Susan McIntyre, LMFT

Susan Mcintyre LMFT

Susan McIntyre is a licensed marriage and family therapist with extensive experience treating the symptoms and impact of ADD/ADHD.

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Susan McIntyre, LMFT
CA License #LMFT89894