Your Thoughts All the Way Down
In his book, Turtles All the Way Down, John Green writes that "there is hope, even if your brain tells you there isn't." This may seem hyper-optimistic, just another one of "those quotes" that we scroll past on Instagram, curlicue lettering on a pastel background to be shared with hundreds of thousands of followers. Okay? You might roll your eyes at the clichéd turn this post seems to be taking. Okay, I respond gamely. Not only because I had to include another John Green reference, but also because there is proof in the proverbial pudding.
Maybe by this point in the post you have tuned out, closed the browser window, gone to get your third cup of coffee or to take a long and pensive look out the window. If I, the author, could see your response, I might be insulted. I might attribute you closing this post to my lackluster writing skills, and would then have thoughts like I'm completely untalented or Nobody is ever interested in what I have to say. I might begin to feel anxious, depressed, stuck in a loop of thoughts that leave me unable to concentrate on the things I have to do.
CBT would argue that my anxiety is based on unhelpful thought patterns that I've cultivated throughout my life - after all, you could have closed this post because you've got a meeting to get to, or stepped away because your dog started barking in the other room. But because I have a history of low self-esteem, of talking myself down and immediately assuming my performance is to blame, a dwindling reader count sends me into an anxious spiral.
CBT, which stands for Cognitive Behavior Therapy, "assumes that cognitive, emotional, and behavioral variables are functionally interrelated" (1) - simply put, the way that we think influences the way we feel, the way we feel influences the way we act, and the way we act reinforces the thoughts that we have. The goal of CBT becomes to change the way we frame our thoughts, to learn to "recognize one's distortions in thinking that are creating problems, and then to reevaluate them in the light of reality" (2). In the anxious or depressed mind, a thought becomes a statement of some deeper truth, a thread that leads us down the well-trodden tunnel of overthinking that triggers all sorts of physical symptoms and can compromise our daily lives. But a thought is just a thought. It is not necessarily true or factual, and doesn't inherently hold any value beyond what we ascribe to it. At the end of the day, I don't know why you might stop reading this post. I can't change what you choose to do. But regardless of whether you liked my writing or not, it is my mind, my anxiety, my life that is impacted by a harmful process of thinking. By practicing CBT, we are able to identify and change the underlying misconceptions that lead us to frame thoughts in ways that are anxiety or depression-inducing.
Happiest of Tuesdays to you, dear reader. Perhaps in another universe Mr. Green writes a CBT workbook titled Your Thoughts All the Way Down, a bestselling compilation of practical exercises to overcome anxiety and depression coupled with a touching story about teenage love found during a summer internship at Wellnite. But for time being all you get is me, extrapolating quotes in the name of mental health education. I would be tempted to apologize, but instead will just virtually smile at you in an attempt to positively reframe my own insecurities. Jokes aside, I am thankful that you have found yourself here today. I hope that you find a sliver of light in the notion that our thoughts are just that - thoughts - and that even if your brain tells you there isn't, there is definitely still hope.
BONUS: Here are two great links if you want to continue your exploration into CBT - or, better yet, join us at Wellnite, where CBT is one of the modalities that our licensed therapists can help you with.
1. “What Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?” American Psychological Association, American Psychological Association, www.apa.org/ptsd-guideline/patients-and-families/cognitive-behavioral.
2. Bonfil, Albert. “CBT Techniques: Treating Thoughts as Guesses.” Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Los Angeles, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Los Angeles, 30 May 2017,
3. “Thoughts in CBT.” Psychology Tools, 5 July 2020, www.psychologytools.com/self-help/thoughts-in-cbt/.
4. . Green, John. Turtles All the Way Down. E. P. Dutton, 2017.