Love Austin City Limits, But Struggle With Sensory Overload? This New Wearable Will Transform Your Festival Experience.

Credit: Apollo Neuroscience

AUSTIN, Texas — Music festivals like Austin City Limits (ACL) are filled with an incredible energy that draw in thousands of people. But for those who struggle with neurodivergence, anxiety, or chronic pain, navigating these vibrant environments can be a challenge. I know because I’ve been there. After a near-fatal car accident in 2018 involving a school bus that ran a red light in a school zone, I spent the past seven years actively searching for relief from the chronic pain, anxiety, and insomnia that plagued me.

From physical therapy to psychotherapy treatments like EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), nothing seemed to work. I was juggling (and still do juggle) two high-stress industries— law and media — working 90+ hours a week. Each day, I was barely getting four to five hours of uninterrupted sleep while facing up to 10 to 15 panic attacks daily, and this became my “normal” over the years.

Chronic pain felt like a knife carving up and down my spine, whether I was standing, sitting, or lying down. On team “no sleep,” waking up every day felt like living hell. But that changed when I discovered the Apollo Neuro wearable device at The House of Robb during SXSW 2024.

Designed and developed by a team of neuroscientists and physicians at the University of Pittsburgh, Apollo Neuro is a comfortable Bluetooth wearable device that replicates the therapeutic effects of MDMA treatment through innovative vibrations for individuals who struggle with chronic anxiety, depression, and sleep apnea. 

(L-R): Apollo co-founder and chief medical officer Dr. David Rabin MD, PhD, and CEO Kathryn Fantauzzi | Credit: Apollo Neuroscience

It is the latest product from Apollo Neuroscience and what the company says is the very first wearable technology to use both predictive and generative artificial intelligence (AI) to learn about a person’s stress levels and sleep quality to proactively improve sleep and support the body’s recovery from stress.

Launched in 2020 by Kathryn Fantauzzi and Dr. David Rabin MD, PhD, the female-founded company has successfully positioned itself as a serious contender in the wearables sector as it continues to build out the next generation of tech-infused psychotherapy. Rabin, the company’s Chief Medical Officer, is also a neuroscientist and psychiatrist known for his expertise in psychedelic therapy, believes that MDMA-assisted therapy is the closest thing to a cure for mental illness we’ve seen in psychiatry. He describes MDMA-assisted therapy as a “catalyst” for healing because it activates the safety response in the brain, allowing patients to resolve trauma and improve mental health. 

Disclaimer: To ensure this review’s authenticity, I was provided the opportunity to test the Apollo device, which forms the basis of my review. I have not received compensation or any promised benefit for writing this.

Using Apollo to Ease Festival Anxiety

The Apollo device is a wearable wellness band designed to help alleviate stress and improve focus through 8 different gentle vibrations that resonate with your body’s nervous system. By sending subtle, soothing vibrations to the wearer, the Apollo device aims to activate your parasympathetic nervous system— the body’s natural “rest and digest” response — helping you manage stress and maintain a balanced state of mind.

Unlike other health/fit wearables like the Oura ring, Fitbit, or Apple Watch that tend to overwhelm its wearer with data, Apollo Neuro takes an entirely different approach, which requires actively wearing the wristband on a daily, consistent basis for long-term progress and results. But no worries, if you’re still looking for momentary relief, Apollo will still deliver.

After wearing and using the Apollo every day for almost three months, I can confidently share my experience for anyone who also struggles with neurodivergence, anxiety, depression, and/or sleep apnea. While my initial reason for using the Apollo device was to alleviate chronic pain, anxiety, and sleep issues, it quickly became clear that it could offer significant benefits in a festival environment like Austin City Limits (ACL), When We Were Young (WWWY Fest), and practically any major live event or conference.

ACL Fest 2024 Just Dropped Its Lineup

On Wednesday, ACL Fest dropped its 2024 banger of a lineup with headline performances by Blink-182, Dua Lipa, Tyler the Creator, Sturgill Simpson, Teddy Swims, and more. The annual October music festival in Austin, Texas, will also feature performances from Norah Jones, Jon Muq, Hermanos Gutierrez, Porter Robinson, Something Corporate, Fletcher, and more.

In coming into what will be my fifth year attending ACL Music Fest, I am very much looking forward to what I believe will be a new experience for me spanning the back-to-back weekends of live performances that doesn’t require me to disassociate or entirely remove myself from the festival as in previous years. And since missing ACL Fest is not an option, I’ve had to do my best to self-regulate these past few years, never knowing when sensory overload or severe anxiety will kick in.

But when it does, it becomes so crippling that I have to completely remove myself and find quiet zones, such as Kulture City’s quiet area and the T-Mobile lounge. And secret, I missed most of My Chemical Romance during the first year of When We Were Young Fest 2022 in Las Vegas because of it. We don’t talk about that.

Reduced Social Anxiety

With its “Social” mode, the Apollo device delivers calming vibrations that helps ease anxiety in large crowds. For me, it has allowed me to relax and engage more easily with people I meet, while enjoying conversations and the festival vibe without the usual overwhelming feelings.

Enhanced Focus and Energy

Tapping into “Focus,” “Energy,” and “Recover” modes are perfect for helping you stay alert and energized throughout the day. The vibrations help me concentrate on the music and soak up the positive atmosphere, even amid the chaos.

Since March, I have taken Apollo everywhere with me, most recently the Austin Blues Festival and the 2024 Red Bull MotoGP US Grand Prix at COTA, and it was a surprisingly good experience given everything happening around us.

Get That Much Needed Sleep

No matter how hard you go during ACL and these festivals, endurance is always the key. Staying up as late as you can doesn’t work to your advantage and getting to bed as early as you can once you’ve seen your headlining artists doesn’t strip you of your cool card or local Austin-ite status. These festivals take a deep toll on sleep, but with Apollo’s “Sleep” and “Unwind” modes, you will feel as refreshed as you could given the amount of hours on your feet in that Texas heat. The gentle vibrations lull me into a restful sleep every night, where I’m now waking up with at least 8-9 hours of quality sleep without interruption.

Have Chronic Pain? Let It Rest Your Achiness

For me, standing up for long periods of time is dreadful and often triggers my chronic back pain, but consistently using Apollo’s “Unwind” and “Calm” modes have helped alleviate that tension and reduce my overall discomfort – something physical therapy or EMDR has been unable to accomplish even when practicing my daily exercises.

How to Use Apollo at Austin City Limits

If you’re planning to attend ACL 2024 in October, or any other music festival like Electric Forest and Electric Daisy Carnival (EDC), I highly recommend the Apollo wearable. Here’s a guide that I have stuck to almost each day in making the most of its breakthrough psychotherapy technology:

#1 – Prepare Ahead of Time

Before heading to the festival, experiment with different modes to find the ones that work best for you. You can customize the intensity of the vibrations through the Apollo app to suit your preferences based on the lower and higher vibrations.

#2 – Start Each Morning Calmly

Use the “Focus” or “Energy” modes as you prepare for the day to boost your energy levels and set a positive tone for the festival. I usually start out on Focus and gradually build up to the Energy mode.

#3 – Don’t Be Too Lazy, Stay Social

Switch to “Social” mode while mingling with fellow festival-goers or exploring the festival grounds. This will help you feel more relaxed and open to new experiences.

#4 – Wind Down at Night

After a full day of music, activate the “Sleep” mode as you prepare for bed. This will help you relax and get a good night’s sleep, ensuring you’re recharged for the next day.

#5 – Manage Your Pain and Discomfort

If you start to feel fatigued or sore, switch on “Unwind” mode, which is designed to help you reduce muscle tension, achiness, and discomfort.

Breaking the Cycle of Pain and Anxiety

After months of using the Apollo device daily, I’ve noticed a significant improvement in my ability to wake up refreshed and work efficiently as both a neurodivergent lawyer and media professional. Stepping into The House of Robb at SXSW 2024 was transformative, and I’m excited to share how the Apollo device can help others find relief too.

For those wanting to try it before committing to the current $290 price point (see: Amazon), the Apollo Neuro app offers a free demo experience for iPhone users. However, the app is available for both iOS and Android users.