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HEALTH

Seven very Italian ways to beat the January blues

Italians know that the simple pleasures can lift you up and carry you through the winter months. Here's how you can benefit, whether you're in Italy or not.

Seven very Italian ways to beat the January blues
Photo: Valerie Hache/AFP

Short days, grey skies and cold weather are enough to bring your mood down no matter where you are in the world – especially if you tend to be somewhat meteopatico.

And with coronavirus restrictions in place and travel still complicated, this time of year can be especially challenging for people living abroad and far from loved ones.

But embracing the Mediterranean way of life could help inject some joy into the dreary days of January. 

READ ALSO: Life in Italy: ‘Dante, bike rides and grappa keep the January blues at bay in Verona’

In Italy, simple pleasures are key, and this is thought to be behind the huge numbers of super-centenarians (people who live beyond 100) in the country. 

Here are a few suggestions that might help you beat the January blues – Italian style.

Take a passeggiata

There’s a lot to be said for snuggling up by the fireplace with a good book or film in winter. But many Italians will stress the importance of getting out and about and keeping active at this time of year – as long as you wrap up warm.

And the traditional stroll taken before or after dinner in Italy is a big happiness win.

As well as getting the blood flowing – and apparently aiding appetite or digestion – the passeggiata is a way to ‘see and be seen’ in your town’s picturesque centro storico (historic town centre) or on the lungomare (seafront).

Not only will the views, fresh air and movement cheer you up, but it’s usually a sociable affair – odds are that you’ll bump into a friend or get chatting to a neighbour along the way.

If you’d prefer some more rigorous (or solitary) exercise, it’s best to head to the local park for your walk or jog instead.

READ ALSO: 17 of the most beautiful parks and gardens to visit in Italy

An evening stroll along the Arno river near the Ponte Vecchio in downtown Florence. Photo: Vincenzo PINTO / AFP

Have an aperitivo with a friend

The aperitivo: one of Italy’s noblest traditions – and one which has been helping Italians beat the blues for over a hundred years. Bars across the country fill up between 6pm and 9pm (the start time gets later the further south you go) as friends head out for something to drink and a bite to eat.

If you’re outside Italy, make a date with a friend to catch up over drinks and nibbles, or perhaps you could hold your own Italian-style aperitivo hour (Covid restrictions permitting).

Numerous studies have shown that the key component of happiness is strong social relationships, while enjoying alcohol and snacks in moderation means you won’t feel any guilt for over-indulging.

Take in a museum or cultural site

Italy has a lot of art, a lot of history and a huge number of cultural sites, including a whopping 58 Unesco world heritage sites that you have probably never heard of, let alone visited. Each year record numbers visit the country’s monuments, perhaps down to the the powerful effect these sites can have on our wellbeing.

Museums and art galleries help stop you dwelling on your own problems and provide you with new experiences, new points of view and fresh inspiration – all of which will make you happier. You just need make the time to visit them.

Eat a pizza

Money can’t buy you happiness – but for a few euros in Italy you can get an excellent pizza. There is a definite connection between food and happiness, and with its hot, crispy base and melted cheese topping, pizza is the perfect comfort food. 

If you’re on a January diet, you may not even need to indulge in order to feel the positive effects of pizza. A 2013 study claimed that the idea of pizza and happiness were so closely connected that even the act of drawing a picture of a pizza made people feel better about life. It might be worth a try.

Reading these curious facts about pizza might also make you smile.

Photo: Nik Owens on Unsplash

Cook something simple

You don’t have to eat out to eat happily. If cooking feels like a chore, perhaps you just need some Italian inspiration: Italian food is delicious and for the most part, simple to make.

With the right recipe, anyone can rustle up an authentic-tasting dish of spaghetti alla carbonara or cacio e pepe – and they will be happier for it too.

READ ALSO:

Cooking is known to be therapeutic, as it focuses our attention on the task at hand and gives us a sense of achievement, even if it sometimes feels like a chore before you begin.

You may not be surprised to hear that readers told us preparing simple Italian dishes at home helped lift their mood during Italy’s coronavirus lockdowns.

Plan your next Italian getaway

Thinking of a trip to or within Italy this year? January is the time to plan, and we have plenty of suggestions. Though there’s still some uncertainty around coronavirus restrictions, things are looking more hopeful in 2022. And planning holidays gives you a sense of purpose and something to look forward to.

In fact researchers from Holland who studied the effect of holidays on reported levels of happiness showed that people reported a greater improvement in their happiness levels when they were preparing their trip than while they were actually basking in the sun.

Warm up with a caffè corretto

A good Italian coffee will always lift the spirits, but the colder months call for an added boost. That’s where the tradition of “correcting” your coffee comes in.

A caffè corretto is simply an espresso with the addition of a splash of warming grappa, or perhaps sambuca, which can be served on the side if you prefer (this is also known as an ammazzacaffè). Warning: this is supposed to be more a post-lunch or dinner tradition than a mid-morning ritual.

READ ALSO: Where, when and how to drink coffee like an Italian

What are your favourite ways to warm up and keep the winter blues at bay in Italy? Leave a comment below to let us know.

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HEALTH

EXPLAINED: What to do if you face a long wait for healthcare in Sweden

Sweden theoretically has a "healthcare guarantee" limiting your wait to see a GP to three days, and to see a consultant to three months. The reality is somewhat different. Here's what you can do if you face a long wait.

EXPLAINED: What to do if you face a long wait for healthcare in Sweden

What is Sweden’s ‘healthcare guarantee’? 

Sweden’s “National Guaranteed Access to Healthcare” or vårdgaranti, is a right to care, protected by law, that has applied in Sweden since 2005. You can see the latest version of the relevant laws here and here. Here is a summary of the guarantee on the website of the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions (SKR).

Under the system, all patients are guaranteed:

  • contact with a primary care centre by phone, in-person, or by video-link on the day they seek care 
  • an appointment with a doctor, nurse, physio, or psychotherapist within three days of seeking help 
  • an appointment with a specialist doctor or consultant within 90 days of seeking help 
  • treatment or operation within 90 days, if the specialist considers this necessary 

Does the guarantee mean I have a right to treatment? 

No. If the doctor at the primary care centre, after examining you and questioning you, decides that there is no reason to refer you to a specialist doctor, they do not need to do so. 

Similarly, if the specialist doctor, after examining you, decides that no treatment is necessary, then your case is considered completed.  

Can the waiting times to see a specialist or to get treatment be longer than 90 days? 

Absolutely. In fact, they very often are. 

According to the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions (SKR), in February, 32 percent of patients had been waiting 90 days or more to see a specialist, and 43 percent of those who had seen a specialist had been waiting for treatment for more than 90 days.  

The situation in primary care was a little better, with 80 percent of those seeking care in contact with their primary care centre on the same day, and 83 percent having their case assessed by a doctor or nurse within three days. 

In addition, if you agree with your specialist doctor that you are willing to wait longer for an operation, then that wait doesn’t get counted in the statistics. 

So what can I do if I’ve been waiting longer than the guaranteed time? 

In reality, it’s actually less a guarantee than a target.

In primary care, there is no way for individual patients to complain that they have had to wait too long to see a doctor or nurse, or to cut their waiting times by citing the guarantee. 

“There’s no system for enforcing that guarantee,” says Emma Spak, the primary care doctor who doubles as section chief for SKR’s healthcare division. 

It would make no sense to set up a complaints line for those who have had to wait too long for phone contact with their primary care centre, she points out, when they could instead talk to patients seeking a primary care appointment in the first place. 

“It’s more of an incentive system for the regions,” she explains.

Every primary care unit and every region reports their waiting times to the national waiting time register, and then as part of the access agreement between SKR and the government, the regional health authorities receive a bonus if they meet their waiting times goal, or if they improve their waiting times. “That’s one way of sort of enforcing this guarantee,” she says. 

When it comes to specialist treatment, though, patients do have the right to demand to be examined or treated by an alternative specialist or hospital if they’ve had to wait longer than 90 days.

If your primary care centre issues you a referral to a specialist, and the specialist cannot then offer you an appointment within 90 days, the specialist, at the same time as offering you a later appointment, will often put you in contact with a unit at the regional health authority who will offer to find you an alternative specialist, either within the region or elsewhere in Sweden. 

The regional health authority will then have to reimburse any extra travel or hotel costs incurred by the patient.  

Similarly, if after examining you, a specialist cannot offer you treatment within 90 days, they will normally put you in contact with the same unit. 

Some regions have a phone line for people who have been waiting too long, or else you can contact your specialist or primary care centre and ask for information on seeking an alternative specialist. 

What happens if I don’t want to travel to see a specialist or get treatment? 

If your regional health authority offers you an alternative specialist, either within your region or in another region, so that you can get treated within the 90 day period, and you are unwilling to travel, then you lose your rights under the guarantee. . 

“If you’re in Gothenburg, and they say you have to go to Stockholm to get your treatment, and you say, ‘no, I want to go here, then then you’ve sort of forfeited your right, and you have to take what’s on offer,” Spak says. 

What happens if I agree with my specialist to wait longer? 

If your specialist says that they can treat you in four months, but also offers you treatment elsewhere within the guaranteed 90 days, and you choose to be treated by your specialist, then that counts as a patient choice, which will not then be counted in the statistics. 

“The specialist might say, ‘I don’t think you will get any worse for waiting two months extra, and if you wait five months, then I can make sure that you get your surgery done here, and we can make sure that you get all the aftercare and everything here as well,” Spak says. 

But these patient decisions are also counted in the statistics, and if a region sees a sharp rise in patients choosing to wait, SKR will tend to investigate. 

“If some region all of a sudden has a lot of patients choosing a longer waiting time, then we will call them and ask what’s going on here, because patients don’t tend to want to wait extra,” Spak says.  

Can I get financial compensation if I’ve been waiting too long? 

No. 

What other ways are there of speeding up the wait for treatment? 

Don’t underplay your symptoms

When drawing up their timetable for treatment and assessment, specialists will tend to give different patients different wait times depending on the urgency of their case.

For this reason, it’s important not to underplay your symptoms when visiting a primary care doctor, as they will tend to include a few lines on the urgency of your case when they write their referral. 

Stress your flexibility 

If you are unemployed, a student, retired, or have a very flexible job, it is worth telling your primary care doctor about this, because they may write in your referral that you are able to make appointments at very short notice. The specialist may then put you on their list of people to ring if one of their patients cancels. 

“Sometimes I write in my referrals that this patient could easily come at short notice, so please put the patient on the list for people you can call if there’s a time slot available,” Spak says. 

If you haven’t told your primary care doctor this, it’s not too late. You can ring the specialist yourself and tell their receptionist that you are very flexible, and ask to be put on the back-up list. This is particularly useful if you’re waiting for a scan, but you could also potentially work even if you’re waiting for heart surgery or a hip replacement. 

“If they’ve accepted you as a patient, and they’ve made sure that you fulfil the criteria for having that scan or whatever, then you can call them and say, ‘I have a really flexible job, I can come anytime if you have a gap,'” Spak says.

“A lot of people do that, because they can have [back-up] waiting lists. If you tell them ‘I work around the corner and I only need 15 minutes to be there’, then they might call you if someone doesn’t show up.” 

Ring up your specialist 

The queue system tends to be quite ad hoc, with no strict rules over who should be treated first, so it is often possible to reduce your wait by ringing up your specialist a few times a month, just to bring your case to their attention. Sometimes the receptionist will remember a slot that has just come free and bring forward your treatment while you are still on the telephone. 

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