Author: Justine Rickard M.A.
The term “glimmer” was popularized by Deb Dana, LCSW, an author and practitioner of Polyvagal Theory which focused on the role of the body and nervous system as it relates to our sense of safety and survival. Triggers are cues that move the body into those fight-or-flight or freeze states. Glimmers are also cues—but they are cues that move the body into that feeling of safety and connection. Experiencing glimmers is tied to the activation of our parasympathetic nervous system, which can help bring us back to a state of feeling grounded, secure, open, and engaged.
It can be helpful to familiarize ourselves with our triggers because once we can identify something as a trigger as opposed to a real, physical threat to our safety, we can then work on developing our capacity to approach these from a place of empowerment and autonomy. This involves learning skills and developing resources that allow us choice in how we want to respond to the perceived threat as opposed to automatically being taken over by it. Because the ED, for a number of reasons, often has us in a place of feeling threatened - or “triggered” - it can become easy to find ourselves getting caught up in our fight, flight, or freeze reactions. As a result, we get very skilled at being able to zero in and focus on all the things that contribute to us feeling distress, anger, anxiety, fear, stress, etc. It also becomes much easier to dismiss the things or the experiences that actually have an opposite effect on our nervous system. Whereas triggers are cues that move the nervous system into fight, flight, or freeze, glimmers are cues that move the nervous system into a place of safety, connection, and groundedness.
Glimmers are small moments that spark joy or peace, which can help cue our nervous system to feel safe or calm. These are not necessarily the huge, monumental, life-changing experiences. In fact, these are often just tiny micro moments that spark some sense of ease or joy. They can temporarily take you out of the day-to-day hustle or autopilot patterns we get stuck in, and bring up a sense that the you, others, and the world are ok and safe, however fleeting or enduring.
Possible glimmer examples may include:
Sharing a laugh with someone
Being in the presence of a beloved pet
A pleasant, calming scent
Noticing or experiencing an act of kindness between people
Experiences of awe or wonder: witnessing a beautiful sunset or piece of art or music
Here are 6 practical ways to implement a glimmer practice daily:
Grab the headphones. Make a playlist of music that evokes feelings of peacefulness.
Collect a few of your favourite essential oils or candles and keep them nearby.
Get in touch with nature. Go for a walk and listen to the wind blowing through the trees, or try going to the beach or river to hear the sound of water and waves.
Curate your social feeds. Follow accounts with peaceful, motivating, funny presences, and unfollow accounts with content that might be personally triggering.
Plan around your interactions. When you can, make plans to connect with people who bring you peace. If you know you’ll connect with someone who triggers you, schedule a calming activity directly after.
Seek out and record your glimmers. The more we tune into and look for the moments where we feel a spark of joy, peace, awe, safety, connection, the more we will notice. Writing them down to review later can also be a way of revisiting these experiences in our body.
Remember, we can’t control the world around us. We cannot get rid of triggers and challenges in life; nor uncertainty nor external stressors, but we can realize our own power to choose what to give attention and intention to, and the power of noticing and feeling into our glimmers.
Glimmers refer to micro-moments of connection, safety, and positive engagement that can shift our nervous system’s response from defence/threat to calm/safe. This practice gradually rewires our nervous system, leading to increased resilience, better emotional regulation, and improved social interactions.