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Five mindfulness practices for expats

Moving abroad offers an exciting opportunity to live a happier and healthier life. But how can you make sure that you’re enjoying the experience to its fullest? That’s where practising mindfulness can help.

Five mindfulness practices for expats
Photo: Pixabay

According to psychological health expert, Eugene Farrell, mindfulness is all about being fully present and aware of your surroundings. By practising mindfulness daily, you can enjoy the scientifically-proven benefits it can have on your overall wellbeing. 

“Being mindful is one of the most ancient practices around the world and is practised by Buddhist monks. Its simplicity and effectiveness make it the perfect antidote to the demands of 21st Century life. Some small steps in the right direction could be a step change in your life,” says Eugene.

Here are five top tips on how mindfulness can help you make the most of your new life abroad, brought to you by AXA – Global Healthcare and The Local.

1. Mindful walks

Photo: Clem Onojeghuo/pexels.com

Living in a new country means there are a lot of new places to discover. Mindful walks are a great way to explore the natural scenery or appreciate the culturally-rich architecture of your new home. Mindful walking is all about shifting your focus from stresses about the past and future, to the present moment. There are many ways to take a mindful walk, and as long as you are focussed on the moment – you are doing it right. 

One method of mindful walking is to take notice of the sights and sounds around you: “Focus on the colour of your surroundings, the movements of your body and any noises you can hear. Can you hear people, animals or children? Can you feel the sun or a breeze? Do you notice any smells? Notice how you move into different spaces,” suggests Eugene.

Find out how AXA’s health plans can give you peace of mind abroad

2. Mindful check-ins

Practising mindfulness can improve both our mental and physical health, which in turn can help us to improve our overall life – but it’s still important to have a sense of self-awareness and seek professional help when you need it. 

Regular doctor check-ups are important, even if just for peace of mind. With AXA – Global Healthcare, you can have access to the virtual doctor service, whenever you need it. Speak to a qualified doctor online or over the phone, 24 hours a day, from wherever you are.

3. Mindful eating

Photo: Kaboompics.com/pexels.com

One of the best parts of moving to a new country is trying the local food. Although enjoying a meal is important, mindful eating helps ensure you are eating right and making healthy choices. 

According to nutritionist Georgina Camfield, it’s important to listen to your body: “Eat when you feel hungry and stop eating when you’re starting to feel full. By only eating when you need to, you’re giving your body the rest it needs to regenerate cells and boost healthy gut bacteria, both of which will help digestion in the long run.”

4. Mindful sleep

Getting enough sleep can have a positive impact on your day by improving your mood. To ensure you get enough sleep, start by creating a sleep routine; this can be done by setting an alarm clock to remind you to get to bed, and try to avoid screen time at least two hours before bedtime.

Sports nutritionist Thomas Rothwell says: “Sleep should be spoken about in the same light as physical activity and nutrition when it comes to our health and wellbeing. To put this into perspective, poor sleep is associated with fat gain, diabetes, heart disease and reduced productivity and mental skills.” 

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5. Mindful breathing

Photo: Kelvin Valerio/pexels.com

Adapting to life in a new country can be difficult. There’s so much to take in and at times this can be stressful. Mindful breathing is an easy and effective way to deal with stress and anxiety.

“The solution is to take time each day, say 10 minutes during your commute or with breakfast – to focus on your breathing. This will allow you to calm your mind and body from the daily grind, clearing your head to think differently,” says Eugene.

Looking after your health should always be a priority, especially when you’re adjusting to a new environment. Finding the right health insurance policy can put your mind at rest, making the whole process a little easier. To find out about AXA’s international health insurance visit their website today.

This article was produced by The Local Creative Studio and presented by AXA.

AXA Global Healthcare (EU) Limited. Registered in Ireland number 630468. Registered Office: Wolfe Tone House, Wolfe Tone Street, Dublin 1. AXA Global Healthcare (EU) Limited is regulated by the Central Bank of Ireland.

AXA Global Healthcare (UK) Limited. Registered in England (No. 03039521). Registered Office: 20 Gracechurch Street, London, EC3V 0BG, United Kingdom. AXA Global Healthcare (UK) Limited is authorised and regulated in the UK by the Financial Conduct Authority.

 

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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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