I Tried This "Wearable Hug" During the Debate to See if It Would Ease My Election Anxiety

apollo neuro

Design by Cristina Cianci

With the highly-contentious election just days away, I am having more issues than usual with my anxiety and ability to focus. As any iPhone-wielding human would do, I did some research on various products that may help. One night, I came across the Apollo—a neuroscientist and physician developed wearable meant to help with nervous system reactions. Coined a sonic "hug," it looks just like a bracelet and uses low frequency vibrations on your wrist or ankle to control your body’s fight-or-flight response. The soundless vibrations, which feel like a phone buzzing against your skin, aim to take your stress level down a notch or two. The device can be worn during the day or while you sleep, with preset programs for energy, calming, focus, and rest.

Since stress and anxiety are an all-time high right now, I decided it was worth a shot. I wore the Apollo for a week before and after the last presidential debate. Below, find everything you need to know about the wearable, my experience, and whether or not it actually worked.

How it Works

When we experience stress, our bodies' natural fight-or-flight impulse kicks in. Our brain, sensing trouble, tells our body to either run or riot. Apollo provides gentle touch therapy, which tells your brain to "rest and digest." According to the brand, over time, the Apollo can help retrain your nervous system to manage stress more effectively on your own.

As someone who lives with anxiety, this election cycle triggers my fight-or-flight instinct on a daily basis—with heavy emphasis on the flight. I don’t think I’ve napped more in my entire adult life. After avoiding the news for the fourth day in a row, I didn’t want to cut myself off from the rest of the world anymore. I was curious: Could this device help with my election anxiety enough so could remain politically aware?

Apollo Neuro $349.00

The Experience

The instructions suggest wearing the tech on either your ankle or your wrist. After allowing the device to charge overnight, I opted for my right wrist, with the mechanism snugly pressed against my pulse point.

Setup was easier than expected; I downloaded the app from Google Play (it's also available in the App Store for iPhone), and set up a profile. After syncing the device by pressing the green button, I poked around the app for mood selection. I had my choice of settings: Energy and Wake Up, Social and Open, Clear and Focused, Rebuild and Recover, Meditation and Mindfulness, Relax and Unwind, and Sleep and Renew.

I had a desk full of work to dig into, so I chose a 60-minute Clear and Focused session. Within seconds, the vibrating started. The Apollo gave off a persistent pulsating sensation, the intensity of which I could control on the app. The soundless buzzing felt like what I imagine a tiger’s purr would feel like against my body. The pulsations came at different intervals, so I couldn’t anticipate the next wave, which kept the experience unpredictable.

After fiddling with the intensity, I settled on 11%. Just enough to stay aware of the vibrations, but not enough to pull me out of the moment. Wearing the device took some getting used to. I use a laptop on a riser, and the Apollo clunked against the frame. Within minutes, though, I found my groove and the issue didn’t come up again.

The Stimulus: A Presidential Debate

Before the debate, I stress ate four pumpkin donuts and settled onto my bed. I distracted myself by scrolling through pictures of cute puppies doing even cuter things. At exactly 9 p.m., I logged into Hulu, set the Apollo to Relax and Unwind, and prepared to watch the debate.

Immediately, I noticed the difference between focused and relaxed mode. If focus was a tiger keeping me on task, relax was a kitten purring in my arms. Barely perceptible waves tapped against my wrist as I watched. My heartbeat, elevated at 100 bpm before the debate started, slowed down to a calmer 88 bpm. As President Trump and Vice President Biden spoke, I became less focused on the band, and more focused on their words. The calming effect of the Apollo lasted about 28 minutes into the debate, when it seemed like the vibrations stopped. I glanced at the app and saw I still had a little over 30 minutes into my 60-minute session. Worried that I’d become disconnected, I checked my device by adjusting the intensity. Now at 65% instead of 11, the Apollo roared back to life. The more Trump and Biden spoke, the more I adjusted the output. By the end of the debate, the Apollo trembled at 96%. Unfortunately, the session ended before the debate did, which had me scrambling to re-up on the app before anxiety crept back in.

Afterwards, I tried the wearable sleep mode at 15% intensity. I chose the maximum length—120 minutes—and soft, baby vibration waves buzzed against my wrist as I pulled the covers over my head. After less than 30 seconds wondering if the pulses would keep me awake, I fell asleep.

The Results

Did it help my focus? In a word: yes. After a few minutes, I felt the kind of focus I normally get after a coconut milk latte—energized, awake, and determined. I don’t know if it was the band, but I stayed on task and finished my work without distraction.

Like most anxious people, I can be sensitive. The election rhetoric, always elevated during this part of a political cycle, can be too much for me. That said, at least four times a day my husband asks our Google Mini to tell us world events. More often than not, the news begins with “President Trump." And it’s never, ever anything good.

“President Trump declined to denounce white supremacy.”

“President Trump again cast doubt on whether he would agree to a smooth transition of power, should he lose the November election.”

 My anxiety wouldn’t allow me to watch the first debate—too much turmoil and uncertainty. Too much to lose. My heartbeat raced and my stomach sank at the thought of watching the two candidates spar on live television. But, this time, the pulses on my wrist lessened my urge to beg for asylum in Canada, something I seriously considered just days earlier.

For the rest of the week, I switched between 15 minutes of relaxation while listening to the news and 60 minutes of focus while I worked. The Apollo’s battery held up, I didn’t need to take the device off to recharge, which was a plus. 

The Bottom Line

I enjoyed wearing the Apollo, although I think a few tweaks in the wrist strap and a different shell would make the design less obtrusive. With time, I’m sure the designs will improve. New technology usually takes patience as the vendor works out design kinks. 

As for Apollo's usability, it worked for me. The focus setting, when coupled with my sound therapy Brain.FM app, made my work sessions fly by. I’ll definitely keep using the pair in tandem. The relax mode helped my anxiety; my only quibble is I wish the sessions were longer. I tried the energy mode in the afternoon a few times, but it caps out at 30 minutes, which made me reluctant to use it again. I prefer longer, more sustained bursts for energetic sessions.

The device is currently available for $349 at Apolloneuro.com.

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