Scientists believe a new technique called metacognitive therapy (MCT) can help combat depression and anxiety, often associated with overthinking or rumination.

In the study, published in the journal PLOS Medicine, researchers analyzed how MCT can aid patients in cardiac rehabilitation, and also help those dealing with depression and anxiety.

Cardiac rehab is closely associated with anxiety and depression, as it makes patients more vulnerable to mental health problems. Overthinking in these cases can worsen recovery outcomes. Therefore, mental wellness is crucial for complete recovery.

Metacognitive therapy is a recent, evidence-based approach to help people with mental illness deal with rumination and anxiety, positively. “Meta” here refers to the brain and not the thoughts themselves. Developed by Adrian Wells, a psychology professor at the University of Manchester, MCT is a promising method for managing mental wellness.

“We discovered some time ago that a particular style of thinking appears to make people vulnerable to anxiety and depression and trauma and is also responsible for keeping anxiety and depression going,” Wells told Inverse.

Thinking about past events is quite natural, but obsessing over something that cannot be changed can prove to be detrimental to mental health. Rumination often includes persistent, negative thinking about past incidents. It may feel like the mind keeps returning to the same train of thought. It can turn into a debilitating condition.

In the study, conducted between April 2017 and April 2020, researchers divided 240 patients undergoing cardiac rehabilitation into two groups receiving different types of therapy. All the patients suffered from cardiovascular disease, and had experienced a major cardiac event, such as a heart attack.

One group received standard cardiac rehabilitation, focused mainly on exercise and lifestyle changes. Meanwhile, the other group received cardiac rehab as well as MCT in the form of a self-guided book.

After four months, patients receiving cardiac rehab in conjunction with MCT improved by 59% compared to 36% of participants that received just cardiac rehab, as per the outlet.

According to Wells, MCT “focuses not on content, but how people regulate their thinking.”

The guidebook used for MCT in the trial tried to understand what causes anxiety and low mood in patients to comprehend the reason for constant distress. After identifying some areas that need work, the workbook teaches techniques to stop worrying and ruminating by replacing unhelpful behaviors with substitutions. The complete process allows one to feel in control of their thoughts.

“One of the barriers to this, and it's central to the metacognitive model, is the belief that people develop that they've lost control of their thinking, which actually is a distortion because anxiety and depression don't lead to loss of control of thinking. It may feel that way, but it’s not a reality,” Wells explained.