What Is a Glimmer?

Learn about the opposite of a trigger.

person laying in the sun

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What Is a Glimmer?

Glimmer

A glimmer is the exact opposite of a trigger—it is some kind of cue, either internal or external that brings one back to a sense of joy or safety. This can be anything from catching a view of the skyline of your favorite city to seeing a picture of your pet.

In our overstimulated worlds, glimmers can be the answer to regulating our overwhelmed nervous systems.

History of Glimmers

The concept of glimmer is part of Polyvagal theory. Coined by behavioral neuroscientist Stephen Porges and introduced in 1995, the theory describes how our autonomic nervous system (which controls involuntary actions like breathing) is searching for and reading cues to determine if they are dangerous.

This process is called neuroception, and the vagus nerve, which regulates organ functions, is responsible for it.

The term glimmer, however, was introduced in 2018 in the book The Polyvagal Theory in Therapy: Engaging the Rhythm of Regulation by licensed clinical social worker Deb Dana. It was popularized by a viral TikTok video in February 2022 by psychologist Dr. Justine Grosso, in a video that has nearly 100,000 likes.

Some Common Glimmers

If you're still having trouble identifying what your own glimmers are, here are some common ones:

  • Feeling the warmth of the sun
  • Sensing the cool, salty ocean air 
  • The smell of cut grass
  • Seeing a rainbow
  • Sunlight sparkling on water 
  • Smelling lavender or some other relaxing scent 
  • Petting a dog or cat
  • Being in nature
  • A stranger smiling at you in public
  • The perfect cup of coffee

Understanding Triggers and Glimmers

Let's take a look at what causes a trigger and what leads to a glimmmer.

When You're Triggered

When the brain is triggered, it associates past traumatic events as if they're happening right now, leading to the brain and body being on high alert. Symptoms like rapid heartbeat might occur within the body as the flight-or-fight response occurs.

This response helps the body prepare for physical danger—helpful when you’re being chased by a tiger, less helpful when you’re being chased by your own memories.

When you’re in that state, your sympathetic nervous system, which regulates the body’s response to a stressful situation, is activated, increasing the heart rate, and blood pressure, and pumping extra adrenaline to you to prepare you for danger. If this system is activated too often, or for too long, it can lead to health problems like chronic high blood pressure and insomnia.

In the Polyvagal theory, the analogy of a “ladder” is used. At the bottom of the ladder is the dorsal vagal state, also known as the "freeze state." This is when immobilization and fear behaviors happen and the heart rate and blood pressure may fall.

When You Feel a Glimmer

The goal is to get to the “top” of the ladder—the ventral vagal state, which is connected with social engagement and safety. This activates the parasympathetic nervous system (also known as rest-and-digest) and puts the body in homeostasis. More time in the parasympathetic nervous system-activated state reduces your risk of disease.

How Glimmers Work

The term “glimmer” was popularized by Deb Dana, LCSW. Triggers are cues—accurate or not—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 and into the ventral vagal state.

While much of the activity on the Polyvagal ladder is involuntary, it is possible to regulate your place on the ladder.

For example, something like breathing deeply can move you from fight or flight into the ventral vagal state and begin to down-regulate you. However, if you are in the dorsal (frozen) state, you need to first be moved into fight-or-flight before moving into the ventral vagal state.

How to Find More Glimmers

You can probably identify triggers in your life relatively quickly, but glimmers might be harder for you to access. It can be helpful to practice mindfulness or some kind of grounding activity before you attempt to discover your glimmers.

Discovering Your Glimmers

Think of a moment you had—no matter how fleeting it might have been—where you felt safe and connected, whether with yourself or with others. Glimmers will feel a little different in everyone’s bodies, but they’re generally those warm-and-fuzzy feelings where you feel cozy and safe. 

Just as triggers can be both internal and external—from a thought of a traumatic situation that spontaneously comes up to a song that triggers intense feelings associated with a situation—so can glimmers. In fact, one person’s trigger might be another person’s glimmer.

How to Identify Your Glimmers

It can be helpful to keep track of your glimmers, just as you might keep track of triggers or other negative thoughts. You can do this in a journal or in a notes app on your phone. If you need help beginning to identify them, try these exercises below:

  1. Close your eyes and picture a moment of peace. This can be anything from a place you’ve been to, to somewhere you’ve only seen pictures of, to a place you’ve only seen in your imagination. You might want to go spend time there, have a picture of it readily available or create a picture of it yourself.
  2. Think of what made you feel safe and cared for as a child. If there is a way you can access that as an adult. If you didn’t feel safe and cared for as a child, think of what you can do that you wish you had then. Is there someone who can give you a hug or can you give yourself that hugging sensation by hugging yourself or snuggling under a weighted blanket?
  3. Think of a loved one. Picture someone you can just fully relax and be yourself around. If not, picture what having someone in your life like that might feel like. If it’s someone you know, spend time with them if you can or give them a call. If it’s not someone you know, watch a movie or listen to a song that reminds you of someone with these characteristics. 
5 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Dana D. The Polyvagal Theory in Therapy: Engaging the Rhythm of Regulation. First edition. W.W. Norton & Company; 2018.

  3. Mariotti A. The effects of chronic stress on health: new insights into the molecular mechanisms of brain–body communication. Future Sci OA. 2015;1(3):FSO23. doi:10.4155/fso.15.21

  4. Olshansky B, Sabbah HN, Hauptman PJ, Colucci WS. Parasympathetic nervous system and heart failure. Circulation. 2008;118(8):863-871. doi:10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.107.760405

  5. Counseling Today. Polyvagal theory in practice.