For most people, the last couple of years have been a downer, to say the least. A potentially life-threatening contagious virus. Illnesses and losses. Racial injustices and police brutality. Political upheaval. Economic woes. Sheesh.
I don’t know about you, but I feel like there’s bad news everywhere I turn. A few months ago, to maintain my sanity, I made it a goal to look for sparks of positivity wherever I could find them.
So, when I came across something similar called “glimmers,” I was intrigued. The concept of glimmers is that paying attention to these little moments of uplift can make us feel safe and grounded, helping us to be better able to respond to negative emotions.
What are glimmers?
We’ve all heard the term “triggers.” You know, something that causes you to have a strong negative reaction or puts you in a state of distress. Could be an image, a sound, a smell or a person, or hearing or reading about a particular topic.
Glimmers are the opposite of triggers. The term was first introduced in The Polyvagal Theory in Therapy, a book written by Deb Dana, a licensed clinical social worker who specializes in complex trauma. Glimmers are small moments that bring a sense of calm and make you feel happy, secure and connected. Think simple stuff like hugging your child, getting a smile from a stranger, feeling a gust of wind on a sweltering day or seeing two birds playing together on the sidewalk.
How do glimmers work?
First, a quick lesson about the body’s autonomic nervous system, which is responsible for the fight-or-flight response (and many other functions). When you’re triggered, either your sympathetic nervous system or your dorsal vagal nervous system activates. The former may cause you to feel angry, anxious or endangered. With the latter, you may shut down or feel hopeless or disconnected from yourself, others and the world around you.
Glimmers, on the other hand, activate the ventral vagal system. They essentially tell your brain and body, “Hey, girl, it’s OK to relax.” In addition to feeling calm, you may feel happy, attentive, passionate, joyful or engaged.
According to Dana, recognizing glimmers over and over opens our minds to noticing them more often. Talk about looking on the bright side! And then you can reach for a glimmer when you need to recenter yourself or wind down after a triggering or stressful situation.
Finding and using them
When I first went glimmer searching, I struggled. Glimmers are everywhere, but it’s easy to miss them because we’re biologically wired to pay more attention to negative experiences than to positive ones (it’s a survival thing).
How do you know if you’ve found a glimmer? In her book, Dana says she can tell she’s spotted one when she feels a softening of her eyes and the beginnings of a smile. As I pay more attention to my body’s response to certain things, I realize glimmers sometimes give me what I can only describe as a glow or warmth inside my heart. Other times, it’s like my body experiences a sigh of relief.
Everyone’s glimmers will be different, of course. Here are some tips that may help you find and tap into yours:
- Use your senses. What are some of the things you see, smell, hear, touch and taste that bring a little light into your life? A certain kind of music? Make a playlist to help you chill out when you’re wound up. Yummy caramel? Stash a few squares of caramel candy in your bag before you head out for work. For me, it’s the smell of sunscreen. Every time I apply it, I get beach vibes. So peaceful and comforting.
- Consider the people in your life. Who makes you feel safe, heard and at ease? Your spouse? Your mama? Your bestie? Your fur baby? Next time someone triggers you, take a deep breath and think of your glimmer person.
- Embrace the predictable. Look for tiny joys that are guaranteed to happen regularly in your life. The sunrise, the smell of your bodywash during showers, the podcast you listen to on your morning drive. If they give you a sprinkle of pleasure, awe or peace, they’re glimmers.
- Make a goal. Again, it can be easy to overlook glimmers. Dana recommends setting an intention to search for them. Maybe that’s glimmer hunting during your lunchtime stroll. Or actively looking for them once or twice a week.
- Keep a log. As you discover your glimmers, make note of them. Write them down in a notebook or journal. Or keep a running list on your phone. That way you have a selection of go-to glimmers to use (or even just think about) when you need to center your emotions.