What about Interpreters and Stress? Is stress in interpreting a myth?

I have colleagues who have night mares about looking for the booth, running around in maze-like corridors without ever finding your way to the booth. I cannot remember night mares like that. On the other hand I remember real life situations when I was completely stressed out sitting on a bus, in a taxi, on a train that does not simply arrive on time. So much for stress around the job, but what about stress on task.

I think the worst stress situations for me in the interpreting event is when you sit in the same room as you clients and you realize that they for one reason or another do not believe what you say. And you have to take back your clients trust.

So much for my personal reflections. Interpreters and stress was the topic of the second Interpreting Journal Club #IntJC. You can read the chat here #IntJC Session 2, September 24th. I have been meaning to write up my impressions and what I’ve learned from the second Tweetchat for quite a while now but time flies as usual. Maria Cristina de la Vega wrote a very nice report here. My participation record of #IntJC has not been splendid. I was particularily annoyed to miss out on the one about ethical issues. I will try to write up blog posts on the different issues dealt with based on my own experience and the protocols from the chats.

People’s general perception of interpreting is also that this must be very stressful, people hear you are an interpreter, and often respond – “but it must be very stressful”. So what did the interpreters present at the discussion think about it.

First of all, to a certain extent stress is positive, but the interpreter easily crosses the line to negative stress. Stress – or maybe excitement – is positive if you can cope with it. It keeps you on your toes and several participants felt that it helps you deal with the situation at hand, but when stress takes over it makes you “freeze”. @DosParules defined positive stress as the fuel that makes your engine react and negative stress as the one with you cannot cope and makes you freeze. @avic1 beautifully said when excitement turns into anxiety that’s when the stress gets negative. Stress also affects your performance. If you’re stressed your performance decline, you have to cope and stay serene.
It turned out though that these interpreters stress less about the actual interpreting and more about the stress around work, technology, working conditions, documentation, location of the meeting and so forth. Stress also comes from many things that are not necessarily work related (personal situation, environmental factors etc). Interestingly enough, stress form speakers and colleagues can be contagious. @MariaCdelaVega2 rightly pointed out that you should not waste your time on the imponderables. So true, but so difficult not to, if you ask me.

Different ways to deal with the stress in the situation were voiced, those were breathing, sticking to the topic, imposing a calm attitude, stay neutral. Different participants also had different ways of how they behaved under stress, it could be cognitive, subjective or behavioural, i.e. people’s performance goes down, they get moody and they start to move around.

It can be very stressful to see that you are not understood, or to not understand what you have to interpret. In some situations the interpreter can be used as scape goat, a situation which is stressful for the interpreter. Another issue is clients’ unrealistic demands, since you’re the interpreter of X-language you can probably interpret Y-language too. When you are not in the booth, but next to your client, your clients perceive your stress and that becomes stressful too. Only @lioneltokyo had the experience of working in a crisis/conflict situation, but all interpreters agreed that those situations are likely to be extremely stressful but in another way than the “usual” work stress.

Preparation can be stressful too, for instance when you have difficulties preparing yourself or when you are not enough prepared. Preparation is more stressful for beginners than for experienced interpreters. Jobs that come up last minute are very stressful and some even say no to them because of stress.
Is interpreting more stressful than other jobs? The participants said that it is more stressful than many jobs, but it does not deal with life and death or other extreme jobs.

On the issue of how interpreters deal with stress on a more general level, we all agreed that having a life outside interpreting was important. Participants also stressed an active life, running yoga and so forth.


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