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Ways to Relieve Stress and Anxiety

Posted on August 18, 2012

Mabuhay! Greetings to all my fellow interpreters and Interpreters in training! My goodness how time flies by! Has it been NINE years since my visit and Symposium? September 13, 2003.

In that time, much has changed in the field of interpreting, both in USA and in the Philippines. With the advent of the newly born video relay service (VRS) in the Philippines, more opportunities for employment of interpreters will grow! The same thing has happened in USA, when I first visited PAIDE (formerly RIDE) in 2003, VRS was still in its infancy.

The interpreting community could not have foreseen the explosive growth of the VRS companies. Now, Deaf can make calls from their hand held mobile in their car on the way home, using video streaming technology that didn’t exist only a few years ago!

With all the extra work and physical demand placed on interpreters in the video relay arena, a whole new kind of mental and physical fatigue has spurred on injuries previously unknown to sign language interpreters.

In "real world" interpreting, we would have quite a bit of information prior to the assignment such as the name of the parties, the location and type of appointment (Doctor appt, job interview, school class etc) we are better able to prepare mentally for the assignment, even doing a little research about the subject beforehand. If we feel that we don’t like the job, client or subject, we can turn the job down completely.

We are independent, no one looking over our shoulder, we drive to the assignment, relax and breathe, and walk in a few minutes early, hopefully our client is there so you have a few minutes to sign with them, get to know their style of signing. Especially if it’s the first time we’ve met this particular deaf client. We do our job, interpreting, and are on our way. Perhaps we’re done for the day or we have another job somewhere else, either way, we are in our own space driving, thinking of the recent assignment (what could I have done better? What went well? What did not go well, etc) and then we transition to the next job…preparing mentally as we did before and the cycle continues. Physical breaks and mental rests are built into our commuting times between jobs.

On the other hand, Video Relay Interpreting requires us to arrive and log into a computer of a call-center system. We sit in a small cubicle and put on our head set. Several other interpreters are only a few feet away…all murmuring their own conversations into THEIR headsets.

We have NO preparation, and no time to think before or after calls, we have no clue as to whether this next call is ordering a pizza for delivery, or a call to inform that a family member has passed away… is the next call going to be a 16 yr old deaf girl calling her hearing boyfriend to flirt…or is it a grumpy old man calling a government office about his social security benefits. Is the Deaf user fluent in Sign language… any sign language?! Is the deaf user very smart and highly educated? Are they going to be using very high level of language, or is the caller going to be someone who has minimal signing skills, and WE the Interpreter, need to decipher what they are trying to say to whomever they are calling.

Many interpreters cannot handle the VRS arena of interpreting, some cannot multi-task with technology, others cannot transition from one style of signing to another so quickly and others do not like the feeling of having no control of the Video Relay calls coming to them. But there are many, many qualified interpreters who enjoy it very much. I count myself among them. I’ve been involved with Video Relay since its infancy in 2001. I thrive on the challenge of the unknown.

Now… this was a long introduction to my subject of this article: "Ways to Relieve Interpreting Anxiety and Stress.

We interpreters carry a lot of stress and anxiety. We experience something called vicarious trauma, that is, we tend to "absorb" some of the stress from the scenarios we interpret. A heated argument at a job evaluation or in a courtroom will leave us feeling anxious. After we interpret for a futile application of benefits in a government office we leave feeling frustrated or after interpreting bad news in a doctor’s office we may leave feeling our OWN mortality. We are human and it is the nature of the sorts of persons who become interpreters are also very empathetic. We can put ourselves in others shoes.

It is this empathetic nature that can cause us harm. Because we will carry the stress and emotions of the last dozen people and scenarios we’ve interpreted and experienced. While each person carries their OWN stresses, we have absorbed them all!

We need to learn how to distress and relieve our anxiety; here are a few of the techniques I use.

  1. Breathing Exercises: THIS is my personal favorite, so it is first. Take a moment to close your eyes and focus on your breathing. Inhale slowly through your nose. Feel your lungs fill with air as they push on your diaphragm and fill your ribcage. Let your belly swell outward as you inhale. Hold it for just a few moments, and then exhale by slowly pushing the air out of your body through your mouth. Rest your breathing before you inhale again. Each breath cycle should last about 12 seconds. Count to yourself 1-2-3-4 as you inhale, hold the breath in your lungs, 1-2-3-4 then exhale slowly out your mouth counting to yourself 1-2-3-4 then no breaths for 1-2-3-4, repeat. I call this "Square Breathing"

    After you understand the concept of "Square Breathing" you can add one more piece… pick something that is causing you a stress, angry client, bad traffic, a jerk in the coffee shop…anything, visualize this stressor in your mind. During your inhale portion, with your eyes closed, visualize the air filling your lungs and the space within your ribcage, now… imagine your stressor IN that place…allow your bubble of air to surround it…cover and consume it…hold your breath 1-2-3-4 just to be sure you’ve got it all! Now…exhale slowly 1-2-3-4 as you feel the stress flow out of your body! It’s no longer part of you.

    Do this breathing cycle 8 or 10 times and you will feel more relaxed.

  2. Avoid Caffeine and Drink Green Tea: This one may seem to be a tough one! I admit being a bit of a caffeine addict before, it was also at the time of my worst anxiety…coincidence? It’s not really a surprise if you think about it; caffeine is a stimulant, and the crash that comes after the caffeine "high" can be strong enough to bring on depression and anxiety. Try starting your day with soothing Green Tea and an apple. Apples have been proven to wake you up as much as coffee in the morning. Now, Green Tea also has a small amount of caffeine, however, green tea also has an amino acid, L-thiamine, which is a caffeine antagonist, meaning it offsets the "hyper" effects of caffeine.
  3. Create and Boost your "Gratitude Attitude": Take just five minutes to think about all the things you are grateful for. Something as simple has having food in house or a few extra pesos for a sweet treat from the store. It could be as profound as memory of your Lola’s kiss or your first puppy! Take the time to be thankful for all the wonderful gifts you have in your life today, or have had before…or will have someday! When you show thanks for all the good things…more good things will attract themselves to you. I spend 5 minutes in the morning, either in the shower or even the last five minutes in bed meditating on gratitude. It’s really amazing how your day starts in a better mood!
  4. Keep a Diary or Journal: Many people can find it very calming to write their thoughts on paper. When feeling stress, DO NOT dwell and meditate on the negative thoughts. Simply spill them onto paper…try visualizing all the stress filling your writing hand and arm. As you write, you can imagine the level of negative thoughts going down your arm and onto the paper as you let it empty out through your writing fingers. As the thoughts come out of your mind…down your shoulder…into your arm and finally onto paper, it leaves MORE room in your mind for positive thoughts and a peaceful state of mind. OH…VERY IMPORTANT: this kind of writing MUST be done the old fashioned way… on paper with a pen. Let the writing flow…no erasing (that’s why the PEN) and no correcting for grammar or spelling (that’s why no computer). Just write in a flurry…it does not need to be readable by anyone else… even yourself. Ultimately, this paper of negativity will be burned, to release the negative demons! Make it into a silly ritual, even saying a few funny rhyming words to the paper before igniting it. There, don’t you feel better?
  5. "Get a Massage"…This one comes very close to being tied as my favorite!

    For Interpreters, stress and anxiety can manifest itself physically in our bodies. Most of us hold stress in our necks and upper backs as well as our shoulders and upper arms. Usually when we get massages, the masseuse tends to focus on spine and lower backs. We may need to explain what we need. A great back massage is great and by all mean get it, but let your masseuse know that you also need attention spent on your arms and hands as well as the neck…front and back. The masseuse should know how to work your arms from shoulder down as well as massage your hands and fingers, paying attention to stretching and massaging the carpal tunnel area on your wrist. If your masseuse doesn’t get it, get a different masseuse!

    On the same subject of hand therapies, invest in a hand wax-bath for the home, it can be found in most places that sell spa and beauty products.

That’s it for now kids! I hope you all will take at least one of these techniques to heart. The next time I see you, I want to see nothing but relaxed stress free smiles!

Till next time!