Julija Savić is the all-purpose Word Wielder at Zingword, a freelance translator at home and an overall art buff. Her hobbies include cooking and making people feel good about themselves. Check out her other mental health posts at the ZingBlog!

Zingword helps translators feature themselves online, while also effectively marketing their translation services to prospective clients. We have been developing the platform for 3 years and it’s nearly finished and hopefully beautiful. Sign up for the launch!

We are very excited to host a special post on our blog this week! We have been following Zingword for a while now, and we always appreciated their very interesting and insightful articles on mental health for the translators’ community. Julija was kind enough to share with us another brilliant piece on how to mentally cope with these incredibly complicated times. We hope you’ll enjoy it as much as we did and we look forward to new interesting guest posts from the community!

Freelance translation inherently carries a level of uncertainty with it. From the well-known feast-and-famine cycles to the precariousness of working as an individual provider in a global and multifaceted industry, freelance translators experience uncertainty in multiple aspects of their careers, and lives in general.

The job insecurity and financial strain that can usually befall an independent language professional are now only being exacerbated by the global pandemic and the economic issues it brings to the world at large.


Uncertainty in times of COVID-19

According to the World Health Organization’s risk communication pamphlet, uncertainty is a global reality in today’s times: “A pandemic like COVID-19 has not been seen in a century, and much remains unknown and evolving about the situation and the virus that causes it.”

The lack of foolproof information on the virus and the strategies required to deal with it, as well as the constantly changing instructions coming from government institutions (at least in Croatia), in itself creates the bubble of uncertainty that we’re all in today.

For freelance translators and interpreters, however, the situation brings additional factors into play. According to FIT Europe’s survey on the impact of COVID-19 on the profession, many language professionals were already in an uncertain financial situation before the pandemic hit. Along with the pandemic came mass event cancellations and subsequent disappearance of in-person interpreting, as well as business shutdowns that affected whole industries, many of which rely on translators. 96.8% of the language professionals who responded to FIT Europe’s survey were affected by the rise of the coronavirus. While many have reported on the crucial role language professionals are playing in the pandemic, which is hopefully raising the visibility and awareness of our profession, the truth is that this amalgamation of circumstances has had a huge impact on language professionals’ livelihoods and mental health.

The struggle of going through a global kind of anxiety while also keeping an independent business running can be a difficult one, especially when it seems like your whole profession is facing some rough times. Additionally, your clients might be in a precarious situation themselves. The whole world is uncertain, and none of us can say we’re in total control of our circumstances.

But there are ways for us to protect ourselves from the mental imbalance of uncertainty. As freelancers whose work depends on their brain functioning smoothly, how can translators ensure that feelings of uncertainty don’t take over?


Strategies for dealing with uncertainty

In a piece for Forbes, psychotherapist Bryan Robinson describes what makes feelings of uncertainty affect mental health to such an extent: “Your survival brain is constantly updating your world, making judgments about what’s safe and what isn’t. Due to its disdain for uncertainty, it makes up all sorts of untested stories hundreds of times a day because to the mind, uncertainty equals danger.”

Although freelancers are used to a certain level of uncertainty in their work lives, the combination of the nature of their work and the currently shifting times can exacerbate its weight. The key to dealing with those issues lies in establishing a sense of control, and a sense of acceptance.


Acknowledge your feelings

We love freelance translation — but it is definitely not easy. Freelancing in a multinational profession in globally uncertain times even less so. In order to cope with the mental side-effects this brings, it’s important to check in with yourself and acknowledge what you’re feeling.

One way of achieving this is by breaking down what, in particular, you find worrying about the situation. According to an article by Direction Psychology, “thinking of COVID-19 as one big problem can be extremely scary and overwhelming, but breaking it down into smaller, more conceivable, concerns can help make it less daunting, allowing you to process your thoughts, emotions and behaviors in a healthy manner.”

Being affected by your work life and the state of things is a normal side-effect of being a solo flyer translator, especially in 2020. After you take that into consideration, break it down and accept it, you can invest into reframing your perspective.


Embrace the potential of uncertainty

You know what it’s like to feel a little shaky about things. You’ve probably experienced one, most or all of the following:

·      late payments

·      project cancellations

·      sadly similar outcomes.

And you probably managed to rise above them, or work with them to regain a sense of control over your work.

As freelance translators, we are innovative career creatives and are used to producing good work in uncertain circumstances; i.e. we’re great at improvising. This makes us highly adaptable and able to come up with creative solutions — a great feat in today’s times.


Recognize past positive outcomes

Similarly, our past experiences most likely show a certain degree of positive outcomes arising from uncertain times.

You might have gone through a famine cycle with little to no work, only to see this cycle end with a new, regular client. Or doubled down on your marketing efforts when it seemed like you couldn’t get a word in, and saw them pay off in a great way.

Whatever it is, recognizing past positive outcomes of uncertain situations, whether they were the result of sheer luck or your own efforts, can help us reduce worries and develop a sense of opportunity.


Zoom in on “little” anchors

You got up and made a cup of your favorite green tea. You’re settling into the feel of your new keyboard. The project you’re working on at this very moment is filled with some spicy linguistic challenges you usually love overcoming.

I know it gets said a lot, but noticing the “little things,” i.e. the factors of our daily lives and work we enjoy, can help create a sense of mindfulness. Not only do they ground us in the present moment, they also help restore enjoyment in our own work. 

When the wider context of 2020 gets overwhelming, zoom in on what you love about translating.


Take reasonable action

Sadly, uncertainty itself is not always something you can take control over. But there are facets of your own life, and work, that you can control.

For instance, you can invest time and research into the types of clients you want to work with, or take a webinar on freelancing strategies — in any case, work on your skill-set. If that’s not available to you, or such a move would currently be overwhelming, it’s perfectly okay to do some basic stuff like catching up on housework or sending a couple of emails.

Again, focus on the smaller picture — and control what you can.


Rely on community

One of the tips shared in Designhill’s post on how freelancers can handle job uncertainty in 2020 strongly suggests connecting with your network even more than usual, for business reasons — but I would suggest the same for mental health reasons, as well.

The online community of language professionals has proven to be an extremely supportive environment in the past months. It really is an all-in-this-together kind of thing — translators who aren’t struggling are promoting the services of those who are, and associations are making some big strides in terms of protecting their members from the pandemic’s impact. Put simply, people are connecting and helping each other.

So, join your local translation communities, connect with like-minded translators you know or find new ones online. Having people in your life who get where you’re coming from and what your fears are, both on a personal and a professional level, can help you feel supported and restore a positive mindset. 


The whole of 2020 could be described as shaky ground for most people. But as uncertain as the times may be, the strategies outlined above might help you make peace with that shakiness and discover ways to make strides in spite of it.

Whatever your current mental state, know that there are many freelance translators facing the same circumstances and finding their own ways of coping with them. Take one step at a time and try not to fight your emotional response. If needed, seek professional help — it’s nothing to be ashamed of.


While you’re finding your own way of fighting feelings of uncertainty, rest assured that there’s a myriad of freelance translators out there cheering you on 🙂

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