How Bella Zanesco recovered from a $5b career burnout
IN 2013, Bella Zanesco was climbing the career ladder three steps at a time. She was a successful business executive heading up strategy, transformation and innovation for large corporations.
Working in London, New York City, Asia and Australia, Bella was responsible for delivering over $5 billion to Fortune 500 companies like Unilever, Nestle, and Pepsi Co.
"I worked my way into senior positions very early in my career and was doing well by society's standards," explained Bella.
"But every morning I got up and thought: 'This just doesn't feel right anymore.' I was successful and smart but I didn't like what I was doing anymore. I was depressed and exhausted. I was in my mid-thirties, I'd just been dumped and I felt like I wasn't doing anything well."
Exhausted by her demanding job and the way she was neglecting her health, Bella suffered major burnout and adrenal failure. She quit her job and some days she struggled to even make it out of bed.
"My rock bottom was lying in my mother's arms in the foetal position, saying: 'How did my life end up like this?' All of my anchors - my job, my relationship, the home I'd shared with my partner - had vanished," explained the 41-year-old.
After an epiphanic moment watching her nieces and mother dancing in the living room, Bella decided she needed to find her joy in life again. Slowly but surely she began to overhaul her lifestyle.
She tried green juices, yoga and some different career paths. She fuelled her body with good food and learned how to meditate.
"I threw myself in and became a human guinea pig for two years," Bella said. "I did anything I was too busy or too lazy to try beforehand."
This period of experimentation paid off. Bella took up sailing, a sport she hadn't revisited in years, and became a World Sailing Champion in the Hobie class. She retrained in yoga teaching and cognitive behavioural therapy, was named a Top 50 Young UK Change Maker by the City of London and won best pitch at TedX Sydney.
Most notably, Bella found her calling working as a wellbeing strategist, creating consulting business, Fully Expressed. Working with individuals and companies, Bella now helps highly successful women and teams to avoid the career stress and burnout that brought her life to a halt.
With the National Australia Bank's quarterly Wellbeing Index research released in March 2017 finding that young women currently experience the lowest levels of wellbeing in the country (with almost one in two reporting "high" anxiety), Bella's story of burnout is sadly not unique.
"Many women feel as though the society-defined version of what they should have right now hasn't manifested, so whether that's in their career, relationships or their relationship to themselves, no one's ever feeling like they're quite enough," explained Bella.
So how can you identify whether you're at risk of a burnout? Look for these warning signs.
"On the extreme, there's not wanting to get out of bed in the morning, not wanting to go to the office, finding tasks you would usually consider easy incredibly difficult, feeling like you have brain fog," Bella said.
"Then there are physical symptoms like feeling exhausted, irregular poo - I actually had irritable bowel syndrome, a gut microbiome imbalance, and that's a huge trigger for mental health issues, persistent gas, bloating and anxiety."
While her life might still be as jam-packed as it was pre-burnout, she's developed a strategy she calls "electric fencing" - setting firm boundaries - to prevent her from revisiting that dark place.
"There are a lot of things I have to do very differently now. I've had to stop consulting roles, I've had to say no to people," Bella said.
"For instance, I can't really work in a corporate job, 11 to 12 months a year, I need to have a lot of flexibility in my schedule.
"Now it's a non-negotiable for me to have an hour of self-care a day, whether that's a walk in the morning or meditation or yoga."
Bella Zanesco's book, Smart Girls Screw Up Too - The no-nonsense guide to creating the life you want, $29.95, is available in January 2018 from here.