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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鈥檙e 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鈥檒l 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.聽

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

A: I started doing stand-up in June, but I鈥檝e 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.聽

What surprised me is that a lot of open mics are just other comedians. People aren鈥檛 necessarily there to get a laugh because there often isn鈥檛 a crowd. Anyone can get up on stage, there鈥檚 no vetting process, so event spaces don鈥檛 really market the event because there鈥檚 no promise that it鈥檚 actually going to be funny or entertaining. I really didn鈥檛 expect that, but it鈥檚 a perfect place to practice, and I wanted the practice.聽

Sarah performing live in Sacramento.

Q: Do you get nervous before performing?

A: Strangely enough, it鈥檚 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鈥檝e never been diagnosed with anxiety, I was diagnosed with stress-induced acid reflux as a kid. So it鈥檚 safe to say I鈥檝e 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鈥檛 feel as nervous on stage in front of people I don鈥檛 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鈥檙e cool comedians I want to be friends with, but they鈥檙e also professional connections. It鈥檚 not just that I need to do well on stage, but I also don鈥檛 want to be a total spaz in conversation between sets. I do comedy, but I鈥檓 introverted, and using Apollo helps me find the recharge I need while still being highly functional.聽

Apollo has been instrumental in my ability to focus on my set before my performance. I really like the 鈥渕iddle modes鈥 鈥 as in the modes that aren鈥檛 too high energy or too relaxing. I鈥檓 naturally a very high and low person, so the 鈥渕iddle modes鈥 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鈥檛 have problems sleeping anymore. I鈥檝e always had problems falling asleep, even as a little kid, and now I鈥檓 asleep within ten minutes every night.聽

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鈥檓 sensitive to touch, so I tend to use all modes at a fairly low intensity, typically between 8-25%. When I鈥檓 driving, I鈥檒l use a higher intensity, but I rarely go over 25% on any mode. It鈥檚 important that I don鈥檛 feel distracted by the vibrations.聽

Q: What鈥檚 your routine to prepare to perform?

A: I write my set in advance and practice a ton. Once I鈥檓 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鈥檓 doing. When I鈥檓 nervous, I don鈥檛 necessarily get racing thoughts, I have NO thoughts, it鈥檚 like a total block. So I find that Clear and Focused mode helps channel my nervous energy into focused energy while calming my nerves.聽

If I鈥檓 extra jittery, I鈥檒l 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.聽

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

A: I鈥檝e had the opportunity to meet a lot of professional comedians so far. There鈥檚 a common sentiment that you鈥檙e not a successful comedian if you鈥檙e not working through something. Our art form is 鈥渓et me tell you what鈥檚 wrong with me鈥 and laughing about what we鈥檙e going through, without laughing at them. Comedy is an expression, but it鈥檚 important to take the 鈥渨orking through something鈥 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.聽

Apollo really feels like purring cat on my lap 鈥 but I can鈥檛 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鈥檚 completing chores, revising a set, or working at my desk.聽聽