Tisha Cherry is a lot of things. She’s an occupational therapist. She’s an Instagram artist, growing more and more influential by the day. She’s a brand, a figure, a character. But above all else, Tisha Cherry is an optimist—a quality both exceedingly important and drastically fleeting in her line of work.
A woman who genuinely believes the world should, could, and will do better. That is, if they’re willing to accept some personal responsibility for their health. “It won’t be cute,” Tisha tells me, as she describes an entire generation bent like question marks after years of hunching over laptops and smartphones, their necks bearing 12 pounds of vertical pressure.
At an occupational therapy clinic in New Jersey, Tisha treats a myriad of patients with physically debilitating injuries. All of these injuries, Tisha tells me, could have been prevented. Trigger finger tendonitis, for instance: a condition that renders your fingers permanently bent, caused by long term, constant use of electronic devices. Then there’s carpal tunnel syndrome, a well-known culprit that is almost entirely related to the modern workplace in which we spend all day typing on laptops with barely a moment’s break. And then there’s the more prevalent “tech neck,” a condition that sounds much cuter than it is. It’s the result of the aforementioned 12 pounds of pressure we place on our necks every time we bend to check our text messages, Instagram likes, Tinder matches, and so on. Google it.
A phrase Tisha often repeats to her patients is, “I can’t take your pain away because I didn’t cause it.” Other phrases are the more empowering, “You need to help yourself,” and the slightly more scolding “You get what you get.” In Tisha’s opinion, the causes of debilitating injury are more prevalent than ever before. Our dependence on technology, both for work and for pleasure, is something the human body was never designed to contend with. And evolution only works so fast.
Then there are the psychological implications. As children become more and more inundated with smartphone use at younger and younger ages—Tisha explains to me—we are actually training their brain’s serotonin and dopamine centers to be rewarded by their phones. It becomes an endless cycle of stimulus and reaction that separates us from the world we actually live in and forces us to become completely dependent on technology for the feedback loop that is so essential to the human experience.
It’s a grim future for our generation, the way Tisha describes it. All this technology, forming all these bad habits, and compounding year after year as physical and mental strain on our frail bodies. But, like I said, Tisha Cherry is an optimist. And that’s because even though we’re surrounded by enemies, the information is out there that can allow us to defend ourselves. Like Tisha says, “You have to help yourself.” And if you’re willing to fix your posture while walking, sit upright at your desk, limit your phone use, take intermittent breaks at work, among so many other preventive measures, you’ll be just fine.
Tisha will keep doing the work, showing people how to better their prospects of maintaining their health, and providing rehab for those who have already suffered injuries. But as of this very moment, it’s on us to make a difference for ourselves. “Today is when you need to change,” Tisha says. Not tomorrow. Not next week. Today.
The information is out there. But on behalf of Tisha and myself, here are a few tips on how to prevent your own bent and broken future:
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Whether sitting down, staring at a computer screen all day or just checking your emails on the morning commute, it’s imperative that your spine is aligned the way nature intended. Sit upright, with a straight back and squared shoulders, and stare forward at a monitor or phone screen, rather than staring down at it. It will feel wrong at first, but that’s only because you’ve been doing it wrong all your life. Muscle through it, and it will eventually become first nature.
- Break for your health.
Technology and social media can be an impetus to maintaining health. Mentally, the effects are countless—FOMO, depression, and a serotonin-inducing feedback loop fueled only by digital engagement. Yikes! On the physical side, bad habits like poor posture can be limited but not entirely avoided. That’s why it’s important to take lots and lots of breaks, both at work and while off. At work, try to work in 45-minute bursts, giving yourself 15-minutes away from your screen, once per hour. And while off work, try to save 1-2 hours a day for screen-free reflection. Small increments of time away from technology will pay big dividends in the end.
- Less upward mobility, more downward dog.
Yes, yoga. It has so many benefits. For instance: flexibility, muscle-toning, surrender to a spiritual entity greater than one’s self, and something to do with your friends on a late Saturday afternoon when all the brunch spots are too crowded. But, it can also help you avoid tech neck, carpal tunnel, back pain, and lots of other ailments that might land you in Tisha’s office. Yoga can increase the strength of your grip, naturally help you form better posture, and maybe even bring your mind to a place where it is less dependant on the fleeting boredom-killer that is social media. After all, how can you be bored when you’ve become one with the universe?
- Your body is 70% water. Drink it!
The discs in your spine, along with just about everything else in your body, are comprised mostly of water. Staying hydrated will allow these discs to move more freely, as well as keep them exactly where they are supposed to be. Drinking your doctor-recommended eight glasses of water a day can be the difference between a question mark neck and an exclamation point neck at a later, but not much later, stage of your life. If drinking eight glasses of water sounds like a lot of work, try adding some lemon. Works for me. And if it still feels like a lot of work, trust me, five to 10 years of physical therapy will feel way worse.
- Keep reminding yourself that the power is in your hands.
There are so many preventive measures you could be taking right now, this very instant, in order to help ensure yourself a healthier life. Do your research. Like Tisha says, the information is out there. It’s up to you to go find it, but even more so, it’s up to you to implement it. Keep readjusting those spreadsheets at work. Keep checking your Tinder matches every hour. Keep bingeing on Game Of Thrones as if the army of the dead is marching on your house. BUT, just make sure to stop, take a deep breath, check your posture, check your watch, and everything will be just fine.
Illustrations by Jesse Sosa