The Brains Behind the Smiles

17 Aug 2018 8:57 AM | Deleted user

By Stephanie Yuill

Interpreters. We’re the life of the party! We’re the people everyone wants to be around! We’re fun, spontaneous, crazy, caring, kind, and compassionate. We want to save the world.

And sometimes we do.

But how many of us have thought about ourselves? Have taken the time to remove ourselves from the spotlight, stepped off the stage and looked within at our mental health?

There’s a lot of pressure on performers both internally and externally. We expect ourselves to give 110% of our energy to the audience and to know the answers to everything. Interpreters are often ‘on’ more than usual because we think that’s what people expect of us; and we often expect it of ourselves too. Who doesn’t want to be centre stage doing good and saving the world?

However, all those hormones coursing through our bodies during a presentation (and/or before, and/or after) can have lingering effects unless we purposefully set out to care for our mental health. The most well-known ones are adrenaline and cortisol. The adrenal gland, which releases the hormones, has kept primal and modern humans alive for over 2 million years.

So aren’t they good for us?

Definitely. They are part of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) which helps the body respond to a perceived threat. Commonly known as the fight or fight response. Our pupils dilate making our vision better. Our brain become focused and engaged. Some of our body’s systems are suppressed which allows us to work harder and last longer.  

New interpreters may notice this experience more, but even seasoned presenters will feel that boost of adrenaline before walking ‘on stage’.

Traditionally, when the threat is gone, the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) takes over from the SNS. Norepinephrine is released, our bodies start to calm, muscles relax, pupils return to their pre-stimulus state, and our heart rates slow down. The adrenaline and cortisol decrease to natural levels. We all know that feeling after leading an all-day hike, finishing an amphitheater program or simply after summer programming is done: that sigh of relief!

In our modern, fast-paced world, we don’t always give the PNS time to do its job. We go from a one-hour long program to a campfire program. Or from an all-day hike to home where the adrenaline continues to keep us going to get everything done.

And if the PNS isn’t doing its job, stress is a result. Most of us know the physical effects from too much stress: fatigue, high blood pressure, bone loss, headaches and muscle weakness.

We may not, however, connect these hormones to our mental health. Sustained periods of adrenaline and cortisol, without the relief of norepinephrine, can lead to mood changes, sleep disruption, lowered concentration and irritability. And these can spiral into anxiety and depression.  

I should know. I suffer from depression. I have for decades. While I suffer from clinical depression, I am all too aware of how easy it is for me to spiral when I’m not taking care of myself. I help control mine with antidepressants but every avenue I pursue make me feel better!

Hormones are not the only things that lead to poor mental health. I just ask that you take a few minutes a day to address YOUR mental health needs:

  • Get off the stage long enough to go for a walk, meditate!
  • Step out of the limelight to talk to friends, attend a yoga class.
  • Use your interpreter research skills to learn more about mental health or look up healthy recipes to try!
  • Pause in your busy day to simply take a breather.
  • Walk away from your job for a few hours and do other things you are passionate about. I know saving the world is important…but saving yourself if equally as so!!

So from one brain to other, take care,


As someone who lives with a mental illness, Stephanie is an advocate for all things that makes our brains healthier! Including opening up about her depression. But never fear, canoeing, reading, yoga, walking, friends, Eliza her dog, rainbow sunglasses, travelling and good food all contribute to a balanced Steph!

Interpretation Canada c/o Kerry Wood Nature Centre 6300 45th Ave Red Deer, AB, Canada  T4N 3M4

Interprétation Canada  a/s du Kerry Wood Nature Centre, 6300 45e Avenue, Red Deer, Alberta T4N 3M4

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