This is not business as usual | Self-Care Strategies for Interpreting During a Pandemic

This is not normal. 

Interpreting during a pandemic, especially a VRS shift, is like entering a war zone. People are stressed, frustrated, in pain and completely freaked out – with good reason

Don’t treat your shift or yourself like this is a regular day. It’s not.

This is a triage situation. 

As interpreters, we can’t expect ourselves to be 24/7  enjoying our #quarantinelife, productive, #blessed, #handlingit, checking things off our bucket lists and doing our work like it’s business as usual.

This is not business as usual.“Interpreters are first responders who cannot respond.” - Babetta Popoff Tags: interpreting during a pandemic, covid-19

We are on the front lines, witnessing the lives of many people in crisis on a daily basis

Facilitating communication between people who are calm and connected is hard. Facilitating communication between people who are triggered, afraid, sick and overwhelmed is exponentially harder. It can be helpful to name why this is so hard. Let me offer a suggestion:

It is hard because you care.

Connect to the humanity of it. Seeing another human in pain (fear, frustration, anguish) causes us discomfort. It hurts because we care.

This hurt is compounded by the fact that we’re each personally going through hard things, so witnessing the pain of others lights up and intensifies our own personal pain.

Stress affects brain integration.

ID: 40 year old woman with short brown hair and mulitcolored sweater, pointing to her hand in a "4" handshape, symbolizing the brain as it dis-integrates. Tags: interpreting during a pandemic, brain integration, interpreter, self-care, flip your lid, freak out

Brain Dis-integration

When we’re calm, our brain is in a state of integration where all its parts work together to balance and support the other parts. We’re able to problem solve, understand different perspectives, organize our thoughts, and carry out our plans.

When our pain is lit up – when we’re stressed, overwhelmed, outraged, anxious – our brain’s connections dis-integrate, and we lose our ability to do all of those things. 

This video explains integration and disintegration with a ‘handy’ visual that you may just want to teach everyone you know. When you and those in your life have shared language for what’s happening inside, you can lean on it when times are rough. And boy, are they rough. 

Give yourself triage care whenever you can.

Identify ‘check points’ that remind you to scan your body for tension and breathe deeply into it, allowing it to release and relax. Even 5 second check points throughout the day can do wonders. During a VRS shift some check points could be:

  • During your setup process, just before you log in to take calls
  • While ringing or waiting for a caller to answer
  • While on hold
  • Between calls
  • When you log out for a break
  • When you return from a break
  • At the end of your shift

Make self-care a habit.

During this crisis, as interpreters we must have time and practices built into our lives to care for ourselves – to be able to handle the stress we’re exposed to and experiencing. This includes time to cry and grieve and scream and break down. Time to laugh and connect and time to just let ourselves be

Daily reflective practice allows our nervous systems a chance to decompress and rest, and builds stronger connections toward integration.

You wouldn’t ask your car to keep running without giving it gas. Don’t ask your heart, mind, or body to show up to work without having what it needs.

A daily self-care practice creates stronger connections for brain integration.

As you flex this muscle of integration, over time you will find it easier to stay calm through the hard stuff. When those around you are in disintegration, or when things are tough for you personally, your brain will naturally maintain integration in more and more difficult situations for longer periods of time.

The goal is not to become immune to disintegration, it’s to notice it.

We are human. The ability of our brain to prioritize safety when necessary is a very good thing. The goal then becomes a growing level of consciousness, where we’re able to shorten the time it takes to return to integration when we’re not actually in danger, and where we’re able to be gentle with ourselves and others throughout this messy process of being human.

In this integrated state, we become a true source of support for those around us, and are able to act with more compassion and empathy – for ourselves and others.

May we make this state of integration, compassion, and empathy the new normal. 

5 thoughts on “This is not business as usual | Self-Care Strategies for Interpreting During a Pandemic

  1. Linda Krusmark

    Brea, I wanted to let you know that just reading this made me feel more relaxed. I always feel like I have to tough out everything and get over myself. I need to be a better self “advocater”. Thanks.

    1. breanacrosscaldwell Post author

      Linda, I’m so glad this helped you to feel more relaxed. It’s so common for us to want to tough it out and get over ourselves so we can show up for callers. You’re not alone!

  2. Heather

    A colleague shared this via FB. My son has SPD and struggles with integration daily. Both of his parents are working certified interpreters during this pandemic. Reading the above blurbs with emphasis brings me peace knowing how my kiddo may feel on an average Monday; how callers may feel when they are frazzled and somehow blame the interpreter for their err in communication; when all fails I still have the effort that brought me here.

    Compassion fatigue has brought me to my knees in the quiet rooms. Some days I pick at myself for the choices I make in a given shift. Other days I rejoice the sound of my voice leaving a message–yet still hear the echoes of what I did wrong before. I am trying my best to practice self compassion. How do we redirect the compassion we give to others towards ourselves when we are either empty or low?

    1. breanacrosscaldwell Post author

      Thank you for sharing this with me. My response for your colleague, and for all who are asking this same question – you are doing it. In every moment that you find the floor in the quiet room, you have brought yourself closer to tangible support. When you fall into picking at yourself for your choices, and then are still open to receiving the joy that is your own voice, that is self-compassion.

      Self-compassion cannot mean that we get this work perfect all the time. In perfection there is little room or need for compassion. Every time you choose to act with kindness for yourself – especially when you’ve stumbled – you are doing the work of self-compassion.

      It’s important to remember, feelings can change with the wind. If we’re talking about a ‘feeling’ of compassion, we are at the mercy of our emotions. Instead, let us talk about actions of compassion and kindness. In her most recent book, Glennon Doyle quotes Liz Gilbert as saying, “There is no such thing as one way liberation, honey….Every truth is kindness, even if it makes others uncomfortable. Every untruth is an unkindness, even if it makes others comfortable.”

      Let us acknowledge, that acting in kindness or compassion toward ourselves can never take kindness away from others. If we are concerned only with surface appearances, it may look like that’s what we’ve done. But if you peek under the surface you soon see that: when you are in need of care and you give it to yourself, even if that means you’re temporarily unable to meet someone else’s need, the sum of that decision is that you are less likely to burn out. You’re able to return to your work refreshed and open-hearted. You have compassion and kindness ready to pass along to others. We must start SEEING that invisible exchange for what it is. That is true compassion, and it can change the world.

  3. Pingback: 16-Second Stress-Relief for Sign Language Interpreters - Brighter Focus Self-Care CEUs

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