What are glimmers and how do they affect your body?
Shortcuts to moments of joy, peace and other positive emotions are glimmers – a term coined by Deb Dana, a clinician, consultant and lecturer specialising in complex trauma. While triggers are widely understood as signals to the nervous system of a potential threat, fewer people have heard of their opposite. Glimmers cue feelings of safety and calm. They are, she says, ‘micro-moments of goodness’.
Like many therapists, Deb found herself focused on suffering, observing the way that biology holds moments of trauma, poised to release feelings of dysregulation and overwhelm. Yet she wanted to share that the nervous system is also, in her words, ‘beautifully created to supply a never-ending stream of glimmers’. In addition to resolving cues of danger, these micro-moments are key to teaching the nervous system to experience safety and connection. They are crucial to wellbeing.
According to the body’s findings, it navigates through the levels of the autonomic nervous system. Indications of safety provide access to the ventral vagal system, which runs upward from the diaphragm area to the brain stem, crossing over nerves in the lungs, neck, throat and eyes. This is where health, growth and restoration are possible. A perceived threat sets off a regression down the evolutionary ladder to the survival responses of the sympathetic fight-or-flight response or even – where mobilisation is judged ineffective – the dorsal system (freeze, collapse response).
How you can notice and cultivate more glimmers in your life
Humans have a built-in bias towards negativity to ensure survival, so a person is more likely to be aware of triggers than glimmers. It takes conscious effort to notice those moments of beauty, peace and joy that regulate the nervous system. The good news is that it’s possible to coax and cultivate these faint and wavering glimpses of resourceful feelings or qualities.
Glimmers can come from any sensory experience that boosts the ventral vagal energy, however briefly. It might be the smell of a favourite meal, the smile of a stranger, a beautiful sunset, the texture and smell of clean bed sheets, a warm hug, the sound of birdsong or dust motes in the sunlight – even at an age where the ability to make-believe they’re fairies has been lost. They can pop up and surprise, but it’s also possible to seek out glimmers throughout the day and even conjure them from memory.
Through the practice of noticing, naming and collecting glimmers, these sparks are fanned into a glow, as the moment is held and extended, strengthening connection to ventral-vagal regulation. This, in turn, deepens the experience. Glimmers will, of course, vary from person to person. But identifying and cultivating those that best soothe and satisfy you can help to bring moments of calm into even the most chaotic of times.
How to identify your glimmers
Deb suggests making an inventory of your anchors into the ventral vagal system. Then challenge yourself to find a certain number of glimmers each day. As you add to your list, you might find there’s a theme – perhaps you find nature particularly soothing or feel most at peace in the company of certain people. It might be types of activities or sounds that bring you out of survival mode.
The more you tune in, notice, name and bring these experiences to conscious awareness, the better you’ll become at shifting from a surviving state to a thriving one.
Find out more about Kerry and her work at wombservice.co.uk or on Instagram @kerry.wombservice
You can read more articles about mindfulness and mental health in the latest issue of Breathe.