You Know Your Triggers — Now, Find Your Glimmers
What lights you up is just as important as what upsets you
Recently, a friend posted a beautiful picture to Instagram: a quiet sunrise moment in her parents’ tree-filled backyard. “I’m trying to get better at finding glimmers throughout my day,” her caption read. I wasn’t quite sure what a glimmer was, but if my body’s sudden state of calm was any indication, I got the idea. Surveying the tiny, tree-lined square –– even on my iPhone –– felt like exhaling, the exact kind of beauty and calm I needed to reset after a stressful morning.
I clicked over to another post my friend had linked, and I learned my suspicion was on the right track. Whereas stressful situations trigger the nervous system to rev up, some scenarios have the opposite effect, inciting a sense of calm by establishing safety in the mind and body. Therapist Deb Dana calls these moments glimmers.
Here’s the idea: The body gets stressed-out and hyped-up when it senses a threat, and returning to homeostasis can sometimes take a bit of strategy. According to polyvagal theory, external cues of safety –– a friend’s kind eyes, cuddles from a puppy, comforting words from a partner –– activate the “social engagement system,” which acts like an off-switch to the sympathetic response.
Cues of safety don’t always have to be social interactions, though. In fact, Dana suggests anything that makes you feel connected or sparks joy can act as an “all clear” sign when your sympathetic nervous system is revved up.
You probably know your stress triggers, especially if you’ve experienced trauma in the past. Dana argues people should also hunt for their glimmers, and use them to self-regulate in stressful situations. Because the nervous system is conditioned to look for threats (it helps us survive!), it takes some work to notice beauty (and to use it to regulate your nervous system).
Because I know how hard it can be to think of new ideas when I’m already on edge –– science suggests the logical, creative part of the brain goes offline under acute stress –– my plan is to keep an ongoing list in my phone of experiences that make me feel connected and grounded. My glimmers, so far, include cuddling with my kids, deep chats with my husband, walking the dogs, sunsets at Lake Michigan, and laughing with my best friend. When I feel anxiety rising, I’ll have a whole menu of calming resources to choose from, and the best part is, they’re all a part of my normal, everyday life.
Pinpointing your glimmers isn’t a cure-all, and it won’t necessarily keep stress at bay altogether. But being in tune with what upsets you and what helps you calm down can help you feel more in control when the hard moments inevitably show up.