How to Reduce Stress in the Demanding World of Interpreting and Translating

I am not a big fan of Halloween, but I appreciate spooky decorations, creative costumes, and chilling activities at this time of the year. Their purpose is to stimulate anxiety, fear, and tension for fun and entertainment. Halloween can be fun and enjoyable, and the best part for me is that it happens only once a year (I am sure my kids would disagree with me here). However, if we wake up in the middle of the night with nightmares (and it is not a Halloween night), if we carry tension in our bodies that doesn’t go away, if our breath is consistently shallow, and our moods stay low, it is time to evaluate how much stress we have in our lives, what we can do to lower it, and how we can mitigate its effects.

Stress is a constant companion of every practicing court interpreter and translator. Experience, competence, and confidence help to handle difficult situations in the courtroom and other legal settings. Still, these valuable professional traits don’t always make the tension go away. Being a successful interpreter or a translator requires a particular personality, quite a bit of courage, a desire to serve others, and managing intense situations and stressful emotions.

Small amounts of stress for a short period can be useful in mobilizing our autonomic nervous system and sharpening our senses (vision, hearing, perception) to think and act quickly. However, too much stress for an extended period of time can create chronic tightness in the body, shortness of breath, sluggish brain function, and lack of energy; plus, it takes away our enthusiasm for our profession and life in general.

It is fundamental to our health and happiness to recognize stress and do something about it. We can use many strategies, but the key is to commit ourselves to finding what works for us to pursue our mission for a “stress-less” life and a more stable career.

1. Identify your triggers

Sometimes we start our projects with a sense of uneasiness. Perhaps we left our house too late, heard disturbing news, or had a conversation with our spouse or kids that didn’t go well. And frequently, stressful situations happen during the assignment. Sometimes people for whom we interpret speak too fast, technology doesn’t cooperate, and we start running out of time to make it to the next appointment. Being aware of our triggers is the first step to addressing or avoiding them in the future.

2. Be realistic

It is not always easy to say “no” to offers that are attractive financially and professionally. However, knowing what we can handle at any given time can save us from unnecessary pressure that negatively impact the job itself and other responsibilities we must carry out at the same time. We need to set realistic goals, understand our time restrictions, and agree on reasonable deadlines before we say “yes.”

3. Ask for help

Unless we are attending a Halloween party, we don’t need to pretend to be supermen, superwomen, or super-interpreters. Once in a while we need to become humble and ask for help. Many interpreters and translators work from home or travel to various job assignments. This work arrangement takes extra effort to establish connections with colleagues and coworkers. One great idea is to get involved in professional organizations attend conferences, and training sessions and be open to making connections and asking for assistance when we feel overwhelmed or in need of friendly guidance.

4. Create healthy habits

Being tired, undernourished, overweight, or not feeling our best is frustrating and demanding. On the other hand, when we get up in the morning after a good night’s rest, engage in physical activity, eat a wholesome meal, and take time to relax, the world looks less like it does on Halloween night and more like Christmas Eve. A healthy lifestyle is essential for our physical strength and for emotional and mental ability to cope with strained situations.

5. Breathe

Whether or not we are dealing with acute or chronic stress, taking deep conscious breaths is the best tactic to help us unwind. This technique is available to us 24/7, doesn’t cost anything, and the results are invaluable. Breathing regulates our nervous system and influences how we respond to the world around us. Taking a few slow, long, smooth breaths can take us from a state of high alert to feeling calm and collected.

Stress is a part of our lives and learning how to cope with it is a continuing process. The world constantly changes bringing us new challenges, but also new opportunities to become more resilient. We don’t always get to control the events and circumstances in our lives; however, we have choices about how we react to these occurrences and what we do to take care of our health and wellbeing. Relax, take a long breath, and know that you can live a life with less stress.

Feature image by Jonathan Borba from Pexels, photo by Kelly Lacy from Pexels

Urszula Bunting is a professional Legal and Medical Interpreter and Translator. She is a National Board Certified Health and Wellness Coach, a member of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, Registered Yoga Teacher, and published author. Urszula is passionate about empowering people to take charge of their health and to transform life’s difficulties into opportunities to grow. For more information, please visit

Read other posts by Urszula Bunting.

8 thoughts on “How to Reduce Stress in the Demanding World of Interpreting and Translating”

  1. Gladys Matthews says:

    Thanks for your post, Urszula,
    Speaking of healthy habits, people react to stress differently. I for one, tend not to eat or drink. When I’m conscious of it and remind myself to eat or drink something, I feel better. But it can be a while before I think about it. I’ll keep your suggestions in mind.

    1. Urszula says:

      Excellent observation, Gladys. Yes, people react to stress differently, but your reaction is pretty common and quite natural. During stressful situations, our nervous system sends “alert” messages to various systems in our bodies, to survive the danger (and it doesn’t matter what kind of danger it is). There is no time and energy for eating and digesting. Before you eat, try to relax, so you can digest your food and speed up metabolism. Otherwise, you might not feel good after you eat with food sitting in your stomach. Hope this helps. Thanks for your comment.

  2. Helen Eby says:

    Procrastinate by doing whatever is the most fun? Yeah… there is so much to do, I think watching a movie, reading a book, or doing whatever is the most fun is a good answer.

    1. Urszula says:

      Thank you, Helen, for your comment. You are right that there are many ways to relax and we have our favorite ways to do it. Whatever makes you happy! However, procrastinating can be stressful; at least it is for me. It’s Friday night – time to relax!

  3. Gio Lester says:

    I love your writing, Urzsula. And the themes you pick are so relatable, it is hard not to respond to them. I have decided that lunch time is my big break of the day – whenever I take it, there’s no scheduled time. And stepping outside in the morning to listen to the birds is priceless.

  4. Urszula says:

    Thank you so much, Gio! It sounds like you found your way to relax. Many people don’t even take their lunch break (I have to admit that I don’t sometimes), so good for arranging your schedule and creating “me” time in the middle of the day. I am with you on going outside and saying good morning to the new day and the nature around us. Thanks for sharing!

  5. AJ Elterman says:

    Thank you, Urszula. Excellent ideas. I am convinced that about 90% of stress is internal, i.e. it is about how we perceive and process it in our minds and hearts. Eckhart Tolle’s book, “The Power of Now “was life-changing for me and would highly recommend it for mindfulness and a positive shift of perspective in meeting life’s challenges.

    1. Urszula says:

      I can’t agree more. Most of our stress originates in our heads. Being in the present moment, even for a few breaths, can be liberating from stressful thoughts and emotions. Thank you for mentioning Eckhart Tolle and his book. He is a genius. Be well!

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