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Understanding Glimmers and How They Can Help Your Depression

Managing Depression

February 19, 2024

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Photography by Tanya Yatsenko/Stocksy United

Photography by Tanya Yatsenko/Stocksy United

by Hannah Shewan Stevens

•••••

Medically Reviewed by:

Joslyn Jelinek, LCSW

•••••

by Hannah Shewan Stevens

•••••

Medically Reviewed by:

Joslyn Jelinek, LCSW

•••••

Essentially, glimmers are personal cues for joy and positivity. Here’s how to identify them and apply them as a practical coping tool.

The 24/7 news cycle churns out endless misery, and in response, your mind can conjure up ongoing depressive anxieties.

But there’s a way to help train your brain to resist this concept: glimmers, which are essentially the opposite of triggers.

In short, think of glimmers as the things that bring a smile to your face and help you to feel safe, loved, and inspired

Lena Suarez-Angelino, LCSW

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What are triggers and glimmers?

Triggers can put you into a survival state by bringing your mind and body into the depths of a traumatic moment. On the other hand, glimmers can help you navigate your trauma by guiding you back into the light with their shine.

“Trauma triggers are any past events, whether they occurred in childhood or adulthood, that bring a sense of nervousness, fear, or feelings of unsafety whenever someone is reminded of the past traumatic event,” explains Lena Suarez-Angelino, LCSW, a licensed clinical social worker, mental health therapist, and burnout consultant.

“Trauma triggers can manifest in a variety of ways, including but not limited to certain scents, songs, phrases, tone of voice, or environments,” she adds.

Anyone who has experienced trauma may have triggers. They could crop up in response to specific experiences, like certain phrases or sensations, or interrupt your thoughts when recalling details of your past.

Instead of pulling you out of your body, glimmers can reconnect you. Recently, they’ve been popping up all over TikTok as a grounding technique.

“Glimmers can either be positive and joyful memories that a person has from the past, again, in childhood or adulthood, or something that they look for in their day-to-day lives that brings positivity and inspiration,” adds Suarez-Angelino. “In short, think of glimmers as the things that bring a smile to your face and help you to feel safe, loved, and inspired.”

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The science behind triggers

Triggers can activate parts of your nervous system, including a part of your brain called the amygdala. This activation can make you hypervigilant or cause one of the four trauma responses: fight, flight, freeze, or fawn.

Think of it like an overactive muscle that experienced an injury. The amygdala — in someone with past trauma — can activate in response to reminders or cues of the traumatic event, even when there’s no immediate danger.

The science behind glimmers

Experts credit the term “glimmer” to psychotherapist Deb Dana for helping explain the complex polyvagal theory.

The parasympathetic nervous system in the brain includes the vague nerve, which has two branches: the dorsal and ventral sides. The dorsal side of the vagus nerve manages your fawn and freeze stress responses, which some people may forget along with the fight or flight options.

Fawning is when people ease the source of danger to lessen harm, and freezing is just what it sounds like — going still to protect yourself.

The ventral vagal branch is the opposite — this part of the brain grounds you, making you feel safe.

“Glimmers help to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, allowing you to feel calm, relaxed, and at ease,” says Suarez-Angelino. “The longer you can stay in the parasympathetic nervous system, the better it is for your mental health and can help you manage symptoms related to mental health disorders such as anxiety or depression.”

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How glimmers can help you

Reconnecting with the ventral vagal part of your brain can help you regain a safe mental space, and glimmers are a potential pathway to get there.

Focusing on your glimmers creates a physical and mental shift in perspective by bringing your body to autonomic regulation, where your respiration, blood pressure, and heart rate return to typical levels.

“Finding glimmers throughout the day can positively affect the brain because it helps to reframe automatic negative thoughts and rewire the brain from having a negative thought pattern,” says Suarez-Angelino.

“Glimmers can have long-term benefits for your mental health because you are no longer living in a constant state of ‘fight or flight,’ otherwise known as the sympathetic nervous system,” she adds.

Introducing glimmers into your life can be a practical way to help manage daily life’s minor and major stresses.

Children’s author Cassie Brooks introduced them as a daily habit to find consistent sparks of joy each day.

“When I see them [my glimmers], they make me smile and fill me up with a positive feeling,” says Brooks. “I try to create them for other people too by simply letting them know I am thinking of them or genuinely complimenting something about them.”

Choosing your glimmers

No simple list of glimmers applies to everyone because brains respond differently to stimuli.

For example, one person may find a glimmer looking at fluffy animals. Others may hate them and feel nothing.

“A way that I like to ask my clients to identify personal glimmers is to find things that make you smile or even make your heart sing,” says Suarez-Angelino. “Personal glimmers are things that give someone a ‘feel-good’ experience from the inside out.”

“There is no limit to how many glimmers a person can have, and some may be photographs or songs, while others may be more physical glimmers, such as your favorite blanket or coffee mug,” she continues.

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Making glimmers a daily habit

“Implementing glimmers into your daily routine can be small things that you look forward to each day, such as drinking your coffee or tea out of your favorite mug or writing a little memo for your partner, child, or friend,” says Suarez-Angelino.

Some find it helpful to use physical cues to recall glimmers, like a self-comforting hug — performed by wrapping your arms around yourself and gently rubbing each arm — or through a tapping technique.

“I remember watching a video on Instagram about tapping and how you can ‘train’ yourself to ‘tap in a positive thought,’” says Kaz Kenmure, co-founder of COGNIHAX. “Third finger, center forehead tap: Think of a favorite moment or something that makes you smile — mine is my toddler daughter dancing to her favorite song — think about it and tap it into your conscious.”

The takeaway

You don’t have to use glimmers for any specific purpose. They might be the little pick-me-up you need after a bad day at work or the little shine you need in daily life when depression feels like it’s looming over life, or they could act as a grounding technique after experiencing a trigger.

“While glimmers in themselves are not intended to help reduce traumatic memories, they can help to manage trauma triggers when they occur,” says Suarez-Angelino. “For example, having a list of some of your glimmers that help you to feel comfort or a sense of calm can help you to shift your focus away from your triggering thoughts and onto one of your known glimmers.”

However you decide to use them, take a moment to look around the room a few times a day to remind yourself of all the sparkling glimmers life has to offer.

Medically reviewed on February 19, 2024

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About the author

Hannah Shewan Stevens

Hannah Shewan Stevens is a freelance journalist, speaker, press officer, and newly qualified sex educator. She typically writes about health, disability, sex, and relationships. After working for press agencies and producing digital video content, she’s now focused on feature writing and on best practices for reporting on disability. Follow her on Twitter.

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