Avoidance vs. Coping: Is routine beneficial to recovery?

I haven’t mentioned much about my family as, like many families, ours is a little complicated and it would be unfair to go into details on here. Briefly, I’m married, have been for almost 20 years, and my husband and I have 2 adopted children who are now teenagers. I gave up work to look after the children and due to their additional needs and my cancer/depression/ptsd have not been able to return to work.

In my life before cancer, I was a very contented stay at home mum. I easily found ways to fill my day – baking, cooking, gardening, cycling, gym, swimming, zumba. I was happy being at home, being a mum and having my own space to do what I wanted, when I wanted.

I didn’t have a routine because I was happy just living ad-lib.

Post cancer I used walking as a way of coping. My routine was to go for a walk every day, sometimes twice a day. I would listen to music and walk. I thought it was helpful as it was exercise, meant I left the house, and it gave my day structure and focus.

During psychological intervention, I was introduced to TRAP and TRAC:

TRAP = Trigger, Response, Avoidance Pattern

TRAC = Trigger, Response, Alternative Coping

The ‘Trigger’ and ‘Response’ are the same in both, but whereas ‘Avoidance’ is used in TRAP, an ‘Alternative Coping’ mechanism is used in TRAC, with the alternative coping being more beneficial than the avoidance behaviour.

Walking was in fact an avoidance behaviour and rather than being helpful, it was actually fuelling my depression.

With help from my psychologist I came up with a list of alternative coping strategies; things that I used to enjoy doing but no longer did, things that would be rewarding, things that I could give myself a huge pat on the back for doing. We looked at potential triggers and talked about what strategies I could use to manage my emotions at these times.

For me early morning was a huge trigger point; hubby off to work, kids to school, thoughts of having a whole day to get through with no distractions, scary stuff for sure… but instead of going for a walk, I scheduled piano practice and would play for at least 15 minutes but could continue for as long as I wanted.

Playing piano (teaching myself on a keyboard) is a fabulous coping mechanism; it’s engaging (we can say mindful if you like), multi-sensory, gives a sense of achievement, peace and well-being. It is calming. Whereas my routine of going for a walk each day was damaging, my routine of playing piano daily was beneficial.

Playing piano made me feel more able to manage the day ahead, which improved my ability/desire to do other activities, other positive coping strategies.

It’s three months since I was discharged from psychology and my daily piano practice has fallen by the wayside. My routine at the moment is very focused on exercise (but not obsessive walking), blogging and poetry.

The questions I ask myself are:

  • whether my routine is beneficial (TRAC) or detrimental (TRAP)?
  • whether my desire to go running/swimming etc. is avoidance or positive coping?
  • whether my poetry (emotional release) is triggering?
  • whether blogging (and reading blogs) is an avoidance strategy?

I would be interested to hear your views.

Routine can be incredibly beneficial to recovery if the tasks and activities are positive ways of coping.
However, if your routine is filled with avoidance activities then it is more likely to be detrimental.



4 comments on “Avoidance vs. Coping: Is routine beneficial to recovery?”
  1. Food for thought indeed. I would say any form of exercise would be beneficial psychologically – but I suppose it depends where your minds wanders. My mind unravels when I run or cycle and I actually get a good deal of clarity.
    I also do things out of control though (2 pieces of ironing a day – which I don’t enjoy)!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Often I find exercise helpful in processing my thoughts but other times it’s a blocking strategy.
      Slightly amused at your out of control ironing! Sorry 😀


  2. ashleyleia says:

    That’s such an interesting example of how a “healthy” behaviour can actually be unhealthy psychologically. When I’m well I value alone time because of my introversion, but when I’m depressed it morphs into more of an avoidance strategy.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am also quite isolated, obviously I have my family home with me for part of each day, but otherwise I tend to choose activities that don’t involve social interaction… that has always been the most difficult thing for me
      to work on.

      Liked by 1 person

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