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The Compensatory Spiral: There Has to Be a Better Way

March 31 is just around the corner. For a good number of clients it marks the end of the fiscal year, and for translators, high season. What will you do during the next couple of weeks? Ride out the storm on a fully booked schedule, money coming in aplenty, ready to take on new contacts. Or, will you sink right into the compensatory spiral with a better income, but also lack of sleep, weight gain and a chaotic work-life balance? DHEA or cortisol? By asking the questions you have your answers.

In previous years, you used to sigh with relief once the fateful date had passed. Maybe this fully booked schedule lasted a few more days in your case. Either way, the dust eventually settled and it was time to take stock. The good news is that you were doing better financially speaking. Well, the house became messy as you lacked the time to clean in the last weeks. No big deal, a little tidying up, dusting and vacuuming and everything was back to normal. In spite of everything, you managed to stay on course, while balancing work with personal or family life not to mention maintaining harmonious connections with your clients. But at what cost? Going down into the compensatory spiral, no doubt.

You neglected your basic needs in order to meet your deadlines. Let’s examine one of those basic needs: sleep. You cut back on your rest. If you went to bed later than usual, sometimes near sunrise, and got up earlier and unless you belong to the select few who can function on very little sleep, you were more than likely sleep deprived. Just as in previous years, it soon became obvious that what little sleep you managed to get, did not leave you properly refreshed. You were tapped in the compensatory spiral; downing copious amounts of coffee, energy drinks or candy to keep going.


Why? Because sleep is one of mankind’s five basic needs. Amazing right? Sleep mankind’s third most important need, just after the need to breathe and the need to drink water. Sleeping is more vital than eating. In times of intense stress, the body releases massive doses of cortisol which changes the translator’s physiology. If cortisol is not eliminated, it interferes with sleep. Worse still, it builds up in the body and as it does, the translator’s sleep quality keeps on deteriorating. It is then up to the translator to come of this vicious cycle all on his own after March 31. On the menu: hobbies and intensive relaxation activities, in order to sleep soundly once again and quit counting sheep.

Wait! There is another way: prevention. During this very busy period, you can ride out the storm by investing in yourself. In other words, make the most of your skills with dictation or voice recognition combined with heart coherence. You will double or triple your speed and go from 250 words per hour to 500 or even 750 words per hour.

Heart coherence acts as a pacemaker. It is like an oscillator that enables your brain to use the gamma waves (the highest frequencies, around 40Mz) and to synchronize both brain hemispheres. Why would I want to do this, you ask? So as to simultaneously access all of the brain’s functions that come into play while translating but normally compete with one another (which is why we often find it difficult to organize our thoughts) and ultimately our consciousness.

Remember that the brain can be quite lazy: it prefers to spare its energy by working on automatic mode, the mode we use for reading. When we translate, however, it is consciousness that allows us to integrate all of the information within the source text and to transfer it all in the target language. Consciousness, a key asset, only occurs in short bursts in the prefrontal cortex.

When we dictate while synchronizing our breathing to our brain, we translate faster and more efficiently, without the running the risk of becoming exhausted. It gives you the double advantage of maintaining the quality of your work, as well as your sleep quality and ultimately, your quality of life. Isn’t prevention worth its while?

Cortisol : Judith Rousseau

Translation: Doris Cunningham, translator and interpreter

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