Naomi Allen of Brightline Health: “Approaching wellness with small actions”

Approaching wellness with small actions. For me, it’s not approaching it as all-or-nothing. So for example, if you’re going to start therapy, it’s not thinking of it as something you’ll have to do every week for the rest of your life, or if it’s a new fitness routine, it’s not about convincing yourself you have […]

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Approaching wellness with small actions. For me, it’s not approaching it as all-or-nothing. So for example, if you’re going to start therapy, it’s not thinking of it as something you’ll have to do every week for the rest of your life, or if it’s a new fitness routine, it’s not about convincing yourself you have to do it every single day. You have to find the options that actually fit into the reality of your daily life, what’s not going to make you feel overwhelmed and ultimately more stressed out, because that’s not sustainable. It’s all about how small actions create big change if it fits into what your life actually looks like.

Often when we refer to wellness, we assume that we are talking about physical wellbeing. But one can be physically very healthy but still be unwell, emotionally or mentally. What are the steps we can take to cultivate optimal wellness in all areas of our life; to develop Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing?

As a part of our series about “How We Can Cultivate Our Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Naomi Allen.

Naomi Allen is the CEO and Co-Founder of Brightline Health. Founded in 2019, Brightline is reinventing behavioral health care for children and families by delivering integrated care through innovative technology, virtual behavioral health services, and a collaborative care team focused on supporting children across developmental stages, and their families. Started by leading digital health entrepreneurs Naomi Allen and Giovanni Colella, Brightline is headquartered in Palo Alto, CA.

Naomi is a leading entrepreneur with over 20 years of hands-on experience developing high-growth healthcare technology companies. Prior to starting Brightline, she was the Chief Growth Officer for Livongo, overseeing key strategic growth initiatives including new markets and acquisition operations, new category launch, and IPO preparation. She has held executive roles spanning operations, sales, and product as a founding team member of Castlight Health from inception to IPO. Before that, Naomi was a leader in McKinsey’s Silicon Valley office, helping to build their West Coast healthcare technology practice. She holds an MBA from Stanford Graduate School of Business and received her undergraduate degree at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Her extensive experience in health tech and behavioral health spaces position her as a leader in how not just families, but businesses can support their employees’ overall health and wellness.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I grew up in Georgia, with a loving and supportive family. We were anchored in doing mission work, and my parents spent summers doing volunteer medicine in India. We spent all year fundraising, and then come summer, I would go live with a different family while they went to do that mission work. It was really the center of what we did as a family, our “hobby,” if you will. I was always around this team of nurses and doctors that would do rural medicine or go on these missions every summer.

This gave me a blueprint for my life, this practice of acting in service of others. I have taken this forward throughout my life, including in the work that I do in behavioral health. It’s such a joy when you have the opportunity to build a business and have it be financially viable, and do so in a way that is doing good. This service mentality has always defined my life and continues to be incredibly important to me.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.

That service mentality from my childhood was a part of it. Then out of college, by the late 90s, I was starting to build early work in healthcare technology while in consulting, and I really started to focus here after business school. In my 20s and 30s, we saw the shift towards digital health, and I was fortunate to be a founding team member at Castlight Health and held almost all possible roles on the business side as we built the company from three employees to IPO at 550. I then moved more toward the care delivery side, leading me to become Chief Growth Officer at Livongo. Through these experiences, I really learned how to build and scale a business sustainably and in a way that meaningfully improves real people’s lives.

Now as I’m some twenty years into my career, I’m the mom of three amazing young kids, five-year-old twins and an eight year-old. A few years ago, we noticed things my oldest son was experiencing that concerned us — for example, he wasn’t tracking against a number of dimensions, like handwriting or ability to hold utensils, and he was developing strong sensitivities to things he perceived as scary. My husband and I kept asking ourselves, “Is this normal?” — the exact question I know so many parents have felt and worried about deeply.

As a mom, I felt terrified and lost. Our number one priority was getting him the right care. So we started what became a time-consuming and expensive journey, full of dead-ends, disorganization, lack of resources, and a whole lot of frustration. It’s what led me to start Brightline in October 2019 with my co-founder, Giovanni Colella, to break down the barriers to care and bring families around the country an extraordinary experience of care that would help their children, teens, and their parents and caregivers thrive long-term.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?

My parents. They have always been progressive in their own way. We grew up in a small town in Georgia, while both my mother and father worked, and lived their own journeys. They showed me what perseverance is, that life won’t alway be picture perfect, but it’s about how you get through it. I think about their strength often, and have applied it to my business — putting in the work, and figuring out who the people are who are willing to do the work with you is key in success. In work, family, and relationships, it matters across the board.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

When I was early in my career in digital health, we landed a big meeting with Pepsi’s team. We were in their executive dining room on their huge campus — very formal, white tablecloths, the whole thing — and I ordered a Coke. Instantly it was so quiet you could hear a pin drop — and I realized what I had said. I was mortified. They literally could have asked us to leave at that moment, but instead, their most senior team member laughed and suggested a Pepsi, saying, “maybe you try something different today.” Their graciousness turned what could have been an opportunity for a soul-crushing moment into one filled with grace. That situation taught me the importance of grace as a leader.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

I really love Peace is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life by Thich Nhat Hanh. In the beginning, he talks about how it’s the people who don’t feel they have time who need meditation the most. You have to embed it into your life, and he speaks to how there’s real beauty in taking a mindful moment rather than it needing to be all-or-nothing. I also find poetry transformative, in a handful of ways. I read it when I really need a break that is brief. Louise Glück is one of my favorites, it’s really beautiful poetry that allows you to be in a different time or place.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?

One quote that always stayed with me came from my mom and dad: “to whom much is given, much is expected.” As I mentioned previously, growing up we were anchored in doing mission work, and it has truly given me a blueprint for my life. Another quote that has stuck with me is — “happiness is not a destination, it’s a way of travel.” I love this idea of finding ways to carry joy with you, and to find that in the ways you show up every day.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

This past year was a whirlwind for Brightline — launching our business four months earlier than planned to meet families’ needs during Covid-19, pivoting to go all-in on telehealth, building out our core behavioral health platform, bringing on our first care providers, expanding our services for families, launching programs for teens in addition to younger kids. And 2021 is going to be an even bigger year for us.

In February, we’ll be launching a new offering that will allow us to support families across a broad range of common family challenges. That means that in addition to treating common pediatric behavioral health conditions like anxiety, depression, and ADHD, we’ll also be able to help with skill-building and guidance for all the tough stuff families are dealing with. Everything from sleep issues, tough breakups, and missing friends, to anxious thoughts and trouble staying on track with school. This is just one of a few major product offerings we’ll launch in the first half of 2021 to be able to help with the many common challenges that so many families experience.

At the same time, we’re also developing our employer and health plan business. We’re actively pursuing partnerships with national employers to bring Brightline’s range of services to employees and their families. This past year more than ever, we have seen how critical it is that we address the entire family’s needs to best support employees’ overall health and well-being — and, in turn, support working parents in being able to stay in the workforce. Additionally, we’re continuing to build our health plan relationships, so that we can expand accessibility and affordability of much-needed behavioral health services for families across the country.

OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. In this interview series we’d like to discuss cultivating wellness habits in four areas of our lives, Mental wellness, Physical wellness, Emotional wellness, & Spiritual wellness. Let’s dive deeper into these together. Based on your research or experience, can you share with our readers three good habits that can lead to optimum mental wellness? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Approaching wellness with small actions. For me, it’s not approaching it as all-or-nothing. So for example, if you’re going to start therapy, it’s not thinking of it as something you’ll have to do every week for the rest of your life, or if it’s a new fitness routine, it’s not about convincing yourself you have to do it every single day. You have to find the options that actually fit into the reality of your daily life, what’s not going to make you feel overwhelmed and ultimately more stressed out, because that’s not sustainable. It’s all about how small actions create big change if it fits into what your life actually looks like.
  2. Sleep! One of the hardest things in this age of social media and binge watching is trying to get consistent sleep. Tiny habits help here, too, so again, not having all-or-nothing or aggressive goals. I’ve found that it helps to take small but measurable, actionable changes you can attach to your existing routine. So maybe don’t try to suddenly get 8+ hours a night, every night if that’s unrealistic for you, but instead try going to bed a half hour earlier, turning off your phone instead of doom scrolling, that kind of thing.
  3. Family time. Right now, finding actual quality time with your family is weird, because it’s not the same as just being around each other in the same house all the time. But I have found that for me, finding time to actually connect with my husband and kits — off screens, often outside, talking together or doing something like a hike or being out on the beach, helps all of us to feel more grounded and happy.

Do you have a specific type of meditation practice or Yoga practice that you have found helpful? We’d love to hear about it.

Again, for me, it’s about little habits I can fit into my busy days, which I think so many parents can relate to. For example, one thing I do is while brushing my teeth, I take a few minutes to close my eyes and have a moment of calm, shutting out external, stressful thoughts. Another one — I’ve noticed while working from home that my lower back gets stiff, so while I’m drying my hair, I’ll actually make sure I’m intentional about stretching. For me, and for many of us, it’s not realistic to take on a 45-minute stretching or meditation routine, so these micro-habits are key.

Do you have any particular thoughts about healthy eating? We all know that it’s important to eat more vegetables, eat less sugar, etc. But while we know it intellectually, it’s often difficult to put it into practice and make it a part of our daily habits. In your opinion what are the main blockages that prevent us from taking the information that we all know, and integrating it into our lives?

It’s important to really hone in on how you see your small choices in your eating habits. I know how easy it is to eat your child’s leftovers at the dinner table, but what it comes down to for me is practicing mindfulness around self control on a daily basis, as opposed to depriving myself with unsustainable practices. You can’t outrun a bad diet, that’s for sure!

Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum emotional wellness? Please share a story or example for each.

When I am exhausted and need something uplifting, my husband and I will watch standup comedy or something light just for the sake of positivity and laughter. Sometimes you just have to fake it till you make it, and absorbing that humor can really help to feel lighter and happier.

Do you have any particular thoughts about the power of smiling to improve emotional wellness? We’d love to hear it.

When you give away smiles, you will get them back in spades. Even babies know how to respond to smiles because of the way it lights up and stimulates neurons in the brain! I am naturally a really smiley person because I have a lot of abundance in my life and I am joyful in what I get to do every day.

Finally, can you share what habits that can lead to optimum spiritual wellness? Please share a story or example.

Back when I was applying to business school, I was asked to write an essay on what mattered most to me and why, and I chose to write about the importance of maintaining balance. Throughout my life I had experienced times where I felt out of balance, including how I felt spiritually. Eventually I found resources that encouraged and supported a sense of balance, such as truly unplugging or taking a sabbatical to give back. My need for balance was more apparent when my career was less altruistic, however now I feel more harmonized. Optimal spiritual wellness ultimately comes from helping others. In a more micro sense, small doses of time spent in nature or exercising contribute to a sense of spiritual wellness for me as well.

Do you have any particular thoughts about how being “in nature” can help us to cultivate spiritual wellness?

I believe being in nature is incredibly beneficial to our overall wellness. If I’m jogging outside I will always make a point to stop in a place that feels beautiful to just pause for a moment and breathe in with gratitude. Embracing those small moments does something really positive for me.

Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Progress in making mental health support accessible and affordable globally to people despite their family dynamics, gender, ethnicity, culture, background, and so on. We are working towards that at Brightline, and I am inspired every day!

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Check out our site (we just launched our blog) and follow us on social media!






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Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.

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