The Care and Feeding of Interpreters: Why is this Important?

Sep 14, 2021 | Interpreter Education

by: Sandy Mahoney, CSC - NIR Interpreter Coordinator

As interpreters, our lives are filled with unexpected emergencies on the job, last minute requests and assignment changes and we must be prepared for anything! Our baggage follows us into every assignment, and we are the conduits of important, painful, happy, sad, life altering information. We have no voice, but we carry the message. We need to be open about the stress we face.

The Interpreter’s Physical Needs

We have nutrition and hydration needs before, during and after our assignments. We need exercise for our minds and bodies and often to relieve stress. We require rest and recovery after complex, emotional or long assignments. The needs are physical and often psychological. Even our bio-mechanics (ability to stand, sit, move appropriately may be impacted by our work). We need food and rest to nourish our bodies. Are you a coffee and candy bar person when rushing to an assignment or a protein and veggies person? Does it affect the quality of your work? What do you physically bring with you into an assignment? Do you exercise? Studies show exercise boosts your energy level AND your ability to concentrate. Aerobics helps build stamina and endurance and weights build your strength. Exercise has been shown to increase your mental and physical strength and your flexibility. When it comes to rest and recovery after a difficult assignment, needs vary but your need for rest and recovery after an interpreting assignment is affected by your fitness, your age, your demands at home and at work. We all need physical and mental breaks from work. Interpreters are like athletes who need to develop endurance and stamina.

Sleep

The experts tell us that sleep is vitally important for physical healing. It is recommended that you avoid stimulants (caffeine, bright lights, heavy meals) close to bed. Sleeping in a cool dark room is usually recommended as a comfortable environment. When possible, research shows the most restorative sleep pattern is 10 pm – 6 am, but, sometimes, we work an overnight shift or need to adjust our sleep pattern. Recognize that the ability to make up a sleep deficit takes time and is based on individual needs. Work your schedule back to your most comfortable pattern after a challenging assignment.

The Bio-Mechanics of Interpreting

Pay attention to your movements to avoid injury. Fitness matters as discussed above. Pay attention to your use of space. Take “micro” rests and notice where your hands, neck and back are…then situate yourself in neutral positions for your wrists and minimize physical tension in your overall posture. Does your emergency kit include things to help your physical needs?

Our Emotional Needs

Just as important as your physical needs are your emotional needs. Vicarious trauma can result from a sense of loss of control, stress from the content, length and pace of interpreting assignments and an inability to balance your work and life requirements. Who are you responsible for in your life: family members, friends, household expectations and yourself? Do you need to do it all? How can you reduce stress in your life- leave early for assignments, prepare the route, food and extras in advance of your workday or week…? Do you need to do it all? How do you stay calm when things fall apart because they will? A good cry can be as physically restorative as a long walk. Do you have someone who can help you through the hard stuff? Be solution oriented and don’t dwell on the negative. Remove yourself from assignments you hate or situations you can’t endure-abusive relationships, difficult assignments, or consumers. The definition of insanity (as we all know) is continuing to do things the same way and expecting a different outcome!

Work/Life Balance

It really is ok to say no sometimes. Be proactive about scheduling downtime, about scheduling important activities into your schedule and about where your comfort zones are. Find easier ways to manage your responsibilities – allow yourself rest and joy on and off the job! Avoid energy zappers and people that do not add value to your life. Examine what adds value professionally or personally and stock up on those activities. Do “bread and butter” assignments sometimes, but don’t forget the ones that bring you joy. Be efficient everywhere in life except during rest and play. Then indulge yourself!

Remember

Do the work before you arrive at an assignment. Education, preparation, and rest matter. Take care of yourself physically and emotionally. Arrive early for assignments, wear your professional armor, review any notes you have, do your communication assessment, be confident and stay calm in the face of unexpected events and most important: Remember it is NOT about you……

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