Historically, stress existed in humans as a way of protecting us against threats, keeping us safe, alert and protected in times of strife. These days, however, stress has shifted from an evolutionary advantage to something of a menace, impacting our ability to cope with daily life and affecting our mental and physical health. It’s a state that most of us have experienced at some point or another, and may even be suffering from at this precise moment.
For many, the pandemic has brought stress to the forefront of our minds: worries of catching the coronavirus, job security, maintaining a healthy work-life balance and home schooling are just a few possible stressors. However, it is important to note that it’s not always simple to sniff out the cause of stress – and even if you manage to do so, battling those feelings can feel like an uphill struggle with no end. Especially in the translation industry, with its tight deadlines and the pressure to perform to a very high standard, relaxing and switching off can prove challenging, if not unthinkable.
Despite the fact that stress is hard to completely eliminate, there are a few tried and tested ways to help reduce it. Unlike the abundance of other articles on this subject, I won’t extoll the virtues of yoga, exercise and taking breaks – sometimes these just aren’t feasible, especially if motivation is lacking or you don’t have the time (or both).
What I would like to do though is take the opportunity of UK Mental Health Awareness Week, which runs from 10–16 May 2021, to outline a few methods that I and a couple of colleagues use to lessen our stress, on those days where it might all be a bit too much.
1. ☕️ Cutting back the caffeine
In the translation industry, it’s common to find yourself overwhelmed by a heavy workload with a relatively small amount of time to get through it: a situation which can cause stress and anxiety to arise even in the calmest of people. Personally, I’m aware that if my morning starts off this way, I should in all likelihood limit myself to just the one morning coffee, as any more will cause my heart to race and make me feel jittery. My brain then interprets this as anxiety (as the two sensations are very similar) and tricks me into feeling more stressed than I actually am.
Obviously, it’s not always easy to reduce your intake of coffee, but limiting your caffeine intake is definitely worth a try if you are anything like me! Switching to a herbal tea could be another good option as well.
2. 🧩 Breaking down your work into smaller chunks
If giving up coffee is not for you, I’ve found that gaining a sense of control over your day can prove equally useful. My favourite (if not slightly convoluted) way to do this is by making a list of all of the things I need to do within a certain time frame, i.e. by the end of the day. I then set a timer on my phone for half an hour and try to complete as much as I possibly can before the alarm rings, after which I treat myself to a cup of tea or a snack, or I go and annoy my pet cat for a minute.
What this does for me is to provide a sense of focus. Instead of panicking and trying to remember all the tasks I need to complete along with their deadlines, the list helps to provide an overview of my work while marking tasks as “complete” and incentivising myself with a treat provides a nice sense of satisfaction.
3. 🌳 Getting away from your screen
Sometimes, it’s hard to see the bigger picture, especially on busy days when you feel like there is no room to breathe, let alone think. Deadlines, issues with technology and tricky technical texts can all contribute to this feeling of futility, making it feel like there’s little chance of escape and that the universe is out to get you.
To combat this, Mary-Anna, an Account Linguist at Sandberg, suggests that “if you’re feeling like everything is insane and you have too much on your plate, walking away from your screen for just one minute and simply breathing helps. One minute is not going to bring all of your jobs crashing down but it’ll help you breathe and focus.”
4. 🎼 Using music to help you focus
Charlotte, another Account Linguist, has a slightly different approach to mitigating stress, involving music: “When I have a particularly heavy workload that requires me to power through and concentrate quite a lot, I have some special playlists that are made up of tracks with no lyrics, quite repetitive stuff that won’t distract me too much; I play them as a ‘treat’. On the one hand, it gets me motivated to focus on my projects because I’m looking forward to hearing the music, and on the other hand, my brain is now trained to be in a calm and focused mood when I hear that music.”
It could be that these methods don’t work for you. Everyone’s brain processes stimuli differently, and it could take a modicum of fiddling about to find a strategy which matches your way of thinking and your lifestyle. However, it’s worth giving one or two of them a try, even if only to find out what works for you and what doesn’t.
Stress and the issues it causes can be serious if left unaddressed. This article is intended to help you think about stress you may be experiencing and offer some tips that could help reduce it.
If you’re feeling the burden of stress is too heavy to bear, I would advise speaking to your GP or a mental health professional. There are many concrete ways they can help and guide you. After all, stress is something that’s going to be ever present in our lives to a greater or lesser degree: the vital thing is that we learn to deal with it as best we can.