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Jennifer Bartolotta: Learning To Shift Focus From Self-Care To Self-Preservation

Jessica Kaminsky
After working in the hospitality industry, Jennifer Bartolotta now works in consulting to help companies cultivate meaningful connections with clients.

The pandemic has taken a toll on every aspect of our lives. We’re all experiencing a level of uncertainty that impacts our mental health, our relationships, and our work.

Jennifer Bartolotta, founder of Bartolotta & Associates, has learned to look at work and life through a trauma-informed lens. She believes we can use these difficult experiences to help us connect with other people. Bartolotta is leading an event on this topic for Women’s Entrepreneurship Week Milwaukee called You, 1 "Oh" 1: Leveraging Internal Insights To Effectively Connect With Yourself and Others.

Bartolotta's roots in helping others grew in the hospitality industry where she worked on corporate management, training and development, and served as a sales director and the director of Bartolotta Restaurants charitable arm.  

In the last 18 months, Barlotta lost her husband Joe, stepped away from the company they worked to build, and the coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S.

Throughout this, she says she has learned to shift from self-care to self-preservation.

But to even get to a place of preservation, Bartolotta says we need to start by acknowledging our struggles.

"I think we’re reticent, most of us, to say that we got it rough right now or that we're in a spot that challenges us," she says. "But here's the thing about it — that fact that there are people out there that are worse off than we are shouldn't stand in the way of us feeling what we're going through."

Bartolotta hopes this greater awareness of our collective struggles during the pandemic will create a tipping point in mental health awareness and care, and it's why she got involved in this work. 

"We are in this space where people are significantly challenged and it’s affecting their ability to perform and be a team member, and it’s not on the radar screen of leaders that their people are going through this," she says. "And I don’t believe for a second that that’s denial, I just think they lack awareness."

Leaders have not had to manage mental and emotional health to this extent, and Bartolotta says, that our humanity can get lost in the work shuffle. Especially as people work remotely, it's important for workplaces to create a common language and process to help navigate these new challenges.

"So many things have happened that have the potential to have caused trauma for people where they are more easily triggered by things. And people have a way of hiding it, and it's easier to hide anxiety on a Zoom than in a meeting and I think it's really important to just start it off by saying, 'Hey, how are you today?' " Bartolotta says.

She also says that there are tools we can use to self-regulate, instead of just being reactive. "The first is to recognize when it's prickly and then to own that. [Then ask yourself] what can I do to make myself feel better about my circumstances at this moment in time?"

Simple things like exercise, sleep, spending time outside, eating well, and staying connected to others can go a long way, Bartolotta says. "We are hardwired in our DNA to be connected to other people and when we deny that we suffer."

And while we can't see many people physically during the pandemic, she suggests taking the time to make a phone call and be completely focused on that conversation.

Bartolotta also says that she has found enjoying the simple pleasures and making gratitude lists most helpful. "If we can find a way, no matter how dark it is, to see it from a place of gratitude as opposed to a place of deficit — it's certainly something that helps me."

Audrey is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.