On performing under pressure: a staff feature with Sarah

On performing under pressure: a staff feature with Sarah

Behind Apollo Neuro is a team that lives and breathes the mission to empower people to take charge of their mental health and live healthier, happier lives. Though we operate in the world of stress management, we’re certainly not immune to stress ourselves. But we are privileged to have access to the latest science and strategies for staying calm, focused, grounded, and happy. Through a series of Apollo team member highlights, we’ll share a diverse range of perspectives on mental health and wellness.

We sat down with Sarah after she posted in an all-company Slack channel about her recent stand-up show so we could learn more. Stand-up comedian by night and customer support lead by day, Sarah shares how she manages her focus, energy, and ability to perform under pressure. She describes how she keeps momentum after work to feel human and spend time outside. 

Q: How did you first get into stand-up comedy?

A: I started doing stand-up in June, but I’ve always loved stand-up. I joined a comedian group on Twitter while we were locked down in California during the pandemic, and I tried some of their virtual stand-up open mics. When events started happening, I decided I wanted to get into comedy beyond virtual events. 

What surprised me is that a lot of open mics are just other comedians. People aren’t necessarily there to get a laugh because there often isn’t a crowd. Anyone can get up on stage, there’s no vetting process, so event spaces don’t really market the event because there’s no promise that it’s actually going to be funny or entertaining. I really didn’t expect that, but it’s a perfect place to practice, and I wanted the practice. 

Sarah performing live in Sacramento.

Q: Do you get nervous before performing?

A: Strangely enough, it’s not a fear of public speaking that I struggle with. I grew up in a church where I was speaking in front of groups from a really young age. While I’ve never been diagnosed with anxiety, I was diagnosed with stress-induced acid reflux as a kid. So it’s safe to say I’ve spent a lot of my life coping with stress and anxiety.

Q: How do you manage your pre-performance stress?

A: As I said, I don’t feel as nervous on stage in front of people I don’t know. Where I struggle is when I start to think about who the crowd is, and I get inside my head, rather than thinking about my performance. They’re cool comedians I want to be friends with, but they’re also professional connections. It’s not just that I need to do well on stage, but I also don’t want to be a total spaz in conversation between sets. I do comedy, but I’m introverted, and using Apollo helps me find the recharge I need while still being highly functional. 

Apollo has been instrumental in my ability to focus on my set before my performance. I really like the “middle modes” — as in the modes that aren’t too high energy or too relaxing. I’m naturally a very high and low person, so the “middle modes” help me find a nice balance. I used sleep modes for a full month or two when I first got Apollo, and my sleep got a lot better. After that, I found that by using Apollo for a few hours throughout the day, my sleep kept improving. I truly don’t have problems sleeping anymore. I’ve always had problems falling asleep, even as a little kid, and now I’m asleep within ten minutes every night. 

Using Apollo also got me on a better healthy feedback loop where I was able to make better lifestyle changes. It's easier for me to stay motivated to work out, do chores, or work on other hobbies. Instead of being too anxious or dealing with executive dysfunction which can prevent me from starting on a project, even if it's something I want to work on. My go-to modes are Social and Open, Rebuild and Recover, and Clear and Focused. I’m sensitive to touch, so I tend to use all modes at a fairly low intensity, typically between 8-25%. When I’m driving, I’ll use a higher intensity, but I rarely go over 25% on any mode. It’s important that I don’t feel distracted by the vibrations. 

Q: What’s your routine to prepare to perform?

A: I write my set in advance and practice a ton. Once I’m happy with how it sounds, I record it, and I listen to the recording on the way to perform. I get pretty nervous at this point, and I really like using Clear and Focused mode to calm down and focus on what I’m doing. When I’m nervous, I don’t necessarily get racing thoughts, I have NO thoughts, it’s like a total block. So I find that Clear and Focused mode helps channel my nervous energy into focused energy while calming my nerves. 

If I’m extra jittery, I’ll use Meditation and Mindfulness to get grounded and settled before I start thinking about my performance again. For mingling and networking before and after the performance, I use Social and Open to help stay present and keep my energy up. 

Q: What’s it like being a part of the comedian community?

A: I’ve had the opportunity to meet a lot of professional comedians so far. There’s a common sentiment that you’re not a successful comedian if you’re not working through something. Our art form is “let me tell you what’s wrong with me” and laughing about what we’re going through, without laughing at them. Comedy is an expression, but it’s important to take the “working through something” part seriously. You want to be a safe person for other comedians to share new ideas, or be friends with, and be a professional colleague.

Q: Do you use Apollo beyond performing?

A: Outside of comedy, I use a lot of the same Apollo modes. Our work is remote at Apollo Neuroscience, so I really like to use Apollo after work to help transition out of work mode. I tend to use Rebuild and Recover. I really like to hike around a lake nearby after work, and Rebuild and Recover helps keep the momentum up and actually helps me get out the door rather than just feeling like garbage after work and sitting around. 

Apollo really feels like purring cat on my lap — but I can’t wash the dishes with a cat purring on my lap. So Apollo helps me maintain the comforts of that purring cat on my lap, all cozy on the couch, but actually drives me to do what I need to do, whether that’s completing chores, revising a set, or working at my desk.