Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill has Olympic gold and silver medals, three world champion heptathlete titles, and is one of Britain’s most successful athletes. But her greatest challenge? Motherhood, she says.
“Having children changed me in a big way,” she tells HuffPost UK. Since giving birth to Reggie in 2014 and Olivia in 2017, she’s become more anxious, she says, noting: “I just worry about every little thing now.”
Before having kids, Ennis-Hill admits to being very focused on herself “getting on top of that podium”. But now, her priorities have changed. “When you stop and when you have kids, everything completely changes,” she says. “It’s not about you, it’s about them and how you can enrich their lives and make sure they have absolutely everything that they might need.”
The 33-year-old retired from athletics in 2016, but running remains an essential part of life – and she’s passionate about the positive effect it can have on her mental health (and yours, too). She spends time completing old training drills to clear her mind: “Otherwise I would just be ruminating and stressing about every little detail of life,” she says.
Ennis-Hill has long used her platform to champion mental health awareness, supporting the royal-led mental health charity Heads Together. While she hasn’t experienced severe mental health problems herself, she says: “I think we’ve all battled with having stressful situations in our lives where we feel like we’re losing control – we can all have those feelings of anxiety and worry.”
Escaping the pressures of fame and parenthood with three workouts a week helps her manage her stress and find balance. She completes hill runs and circuits in the woods by her Sheffield home, usually accompanied by her dog, and makes a point of ditching her phone.
“I’ve found that is really great for me mentally,” the athlete says. ”I just feel like everything leaves my mind. All the things that I’ve got to do or haven’t done. All the things that I’m worrying about or stressing about, they kind of empty.
“I think just having that time to put things in perspective and taking time for yourself is important.”
While few of us are likely to exercise like a former world champion, Ennis-Hill is set to launch a new fitness app and website, Jennis, to help us along the way.
The app features training programmes and wellness advice for fitness lovers, with special programmes for pregnant and postnatal women to use in the comfort of their own homes.
So what advice does the mum-of-two have for women currently making the scary transition into parenthood? “It’s completely normal to feel the way you do,” she says, “Your life has changed so much, you’ve got this amazing child, or children, in your life, but you’re going to be tired and that will impact on everything and how you feel.”
But, she maintains, if you can summon the energy to do just 10 minutes of exercise, it can make a difference.“It really helps to elevate your mood and helps you get through what you need to get through and adjust to those big changes.”
With mental health finally on the public agenda, Ennis-Hill thinks it’s important to maintain momentum until we recognise the universal highs and lows as “normal”.
“We all have physical problems in our lives and it’s seen as completely normal, but actually, we all have mental problems as well and struggles we face within ourselves and within our brains,” she says. “I think that it’s really important to be able to talk openly about it and not worry about how you’re going to be judged.”
Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill will launch her new fitness app and website Jennis on 10th June, available globally for £9.99 a month.
In ‘What Works For Me’ – a series of articles considering how we can find balance in our lives – we talk to people about their self-care strategies.