Shawn Johnson East on protecting her mental health as a pregnant mom with a toddler: 'I know I’m at my most vulnerable'

Shawn Johnson East opens up about her pregnancy, parenthood and mental health. (Photo: Getty; design by Quinn Lemmers)
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The Unwind is Yahoo Life’s well-being series in which experts, influencers and celebrities share their approaches to wellness and mental health, from self-care rituals to setting healthy boundaries to the mantras that keep them afloat.

As a gymnast, winning came easily to Shawn Johnson East — and she’s got the Olympic hardware to prove it. Now, as a mom who’s in her second trimester with baby No. 2, the gold medalist is focusing on more family-minded triumphs, whether that means squeezing in a prenatal massage or getting 1-year-old daughter Drew Hazel fed with minimal fuss. And while the Season 8 Dancing with the Stars winner — who is married to football player and vlogger Andrew East — admits that her approach to “me time” and self-care have changed dramatically since becoming a mom, she still finds ways to prioritize her mental well-being and build on the discipline and determination that carried her through her gymnastic career.

Speaking to Yahoo Life’s The Unwind just a few days before announcing on Sunday that she had tested positive for COVID-19 but was experiencing mild symptoms, Johnson East opened up about taking time for herself, avoiding emotional triggers and taking part in a new project embracing the “honest chaos” of parenting.

Your new “L’Eggo with Eggo” campaign is all turning “messy mornings into some semblance of calm” by not overthinking breakfast. As a parent, how do you give yourself grace and not fixate on being perfect? How do you “l’eggo”?

I feel like as a mom I hold myself to way too high of a standard, which is a good thing, like I only expect the best for myself and my baby, which is great. But one of my favorite things about this campaign was just the humanizing of parenting. I get so tired getting on Instagram and seeing these moms who are basically Michelin-starred chefs somehow and have time to put on makeup and shower and shave, and I don’t know how they do it.

I love Eggo’s campaign around the honest chaos that comes with toddlers and kids and everything. For me, [as far as giving myself grace], I think you have to truly embrace it and be like, “OK, my life is different than when I didn’t have kids, I can’t sit here for an hour and a half in the morning in silence and drink coffee, it’s not going to happen.” I think being able to simplify your morning routines and do something quick and have something good, and just have those little moments, those little wins truly make you feel better as a mom. Like, you’ve done something right in the day.

Johnson East (with daughter Drew and husband Andrew) is starring in the "L'Eggo with Eggo" campaign. (Photo: Kellogg's)
Johnson East (with daughter Drew and husband Andrew) is starring in the "L'Eggo with Eggo" campaign. (Photo: Kellogg's)

Are you able to take time to do something special for yourself during your pregnancy?

As far as taking care of myself, it’s definitely different being pregnant and already having a kid and chasing them around. I felt like I spent my entire first pregnancy making sure I was taking care of myself — resting, and doing prenatal massages and everything. Now it’s just kind of like, you’re just living. But my husband for my birthday actually surprised me with a prenatal massage — two of them, back to back, no joke ... We’ve also figured out our schedule each day where I can have an hour or two to myself in the morning to go work out or take a bath or do whatever it is that I need to do to get ready for that day or to take care of myself.

You’ve been open about a wide spectrum of mental health struggles you’ve had in your life, whether it’s having an eating disorder as a teen or dealing with the grief associated with a miscarriage. Has that changed your approach to taking care of yourself from a wellness perspective?

I feel like I’m in a phase of life where, knock on wood, I went through so many healing years of therapy and help and education to where I’m in a spot where I feel good and confident in my abilities to take precautionary measures. Especially with being pregnant and hormonal and more vulnerable to my body changing and being sleep-deprived with a toddler, I know I’m at my most vulnerable, so I’m constantly aware of not trying to splurge too much so I don’t feed into a former eating disorder kind of world. And I try not to go down to too sad of times without telling my husband to make sure I keep my mental health in the right spot. And I try to work out at least a few times a week to make sure my body’s feeling good. I just try to do precautionary things now to stay as “normal” as possible, which is a win for me.

Do you have any small self-care rituals that help brighten your day?

[There are} two things that I’m probably most consistent with, every single day, that kind of start my day off right and end my day off right. I always make a coffee in the morning. I don’t know why, it’s just something about the process of making it and then drinking it. It just makes me feel like I’ve started the day off on the right foot. And then every single night before I go to bed I take at least five or 10 minutes to take my makeup off, to wash my face, to put lotion on my belly, to just kind of take that little extra step to take care of myself [and make] me feel good. And at the end of the day, you feel like you’re ending on a good note.

What are some of the lessons from your background as a top athlete that you still live by?

To a certain extent, every single thing that I do on a daily basis has been shaped or formed by my athletic days. When it comes to setting goals or dreams or achieving them, I think that you can never, ever, ever dream big enough because we’re truly capable of anything. But it scares a lot of people, because if you write, “I want to win an Olympic gold medal,” you’ll usually — like, I did the same thing — you’ll laugh at it and go, yeah right.

So I [believe in] setting those massive dreams for yourself, but then every day taking one tiny step in that direction. I think if people can achieve something very small, every day, when you look back a year from now or two years from now, you’re going to be shocked by the progress you’ve made. That is one I’ve tried to carry with me every day. Let’s just try to achieve something small, whether it’s getting my daughter to eat breakfast or getting a little workout in — something little that heads me in the right direction.

Are there any wellness experts or influencers you turn to for inspiration?

Jen Esquer — she’s a physical therapist. I love to follow her on Instagram. She posts the most amazing tiny movement, take-care-of-your-body, mobility, flexibility, wellness things. She’s so knowledgeable.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

It’s so cliché, but it’s “everything happens for a reason.” I feel like a lot of times we spend too much time focusing on things that we should have done differently, or we wish we could have gone back and changed, or we regret, and I think we waste a lot of time doing that. I think if we were to look at those things not as roadblocks, but as life lessons and just understand that they happened for us to learn from, or live by or progress from, we’d be in a better spot.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

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