Glimmers vs triggers

Glimmers: How Micro-Moments Can Re-Shape Your Nervous System and Wellbeing

You Know About Triggers, But Are Glimmers the Missing Piece in Your Wellbeing Puzzle?

Glimmers vs Triggers

In the realm of emotional and psychological well-being, we often hear about “triggers,” but what about “glimmers”? Deb Dana, a clinician and author specialising in Polyvagal Theory, coined the term to describe the lesser-known, but equally important, moments that cue our nervous system to feel safe, calm and connected. These aren’t grand epiphanies or life-changing events; they are small, subtle cues that gently shape our nervous system.

While triggers signal danger, activating our fight, flight, or freeze response, glimmers do quite the opposite. They prompt a sense of calm and safety, illuminating a path towards well-being.

Fight flight freeze fawn


The Biology of Glimmers: Neuroception And Our Inner Radar

To grasp the biological significance of glimmers, we need to understand the concept of “neuroception,” a term introduced by Dr. Stephen Porges, the founder of Polyvagal Theory. Neuroception is our subconscious system for scanning our environment for cues of safety or danger. Unlike perception, which is a conscious awareness, neuroception operates below the radar, continuously monitoring subtle signals and influencing our physiological state.


When our neuroceptive system detects features in the environment or in interpersonal interactions that it associates with safety, it activates the ventral vagal complex—essentially the “safety circuit” in our nervous system. This sets off a cascade of biological responses that enable our most human qualities like empathy, connection, and openness to emerge, enriching our emotional landscape. This is the physiological undercurrent of experiencing a ‘glimmer.’

In contrast, when cues for danger or threat are detected, our neuroception shifts our physiology towards a state of hyper-vigilance or shutdown, activating the “fight, flight, or freeze” responses and releasing stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. This biological shift corresponds to what we commonly refer to as a ‘trigger.’

Understanding this neuroceptive system helps reframe our emotional states in a biological context. Glimmers, then, serve as cues that coax our neuroception towards sensing safety and wellbeing, while triggers do the opposite. They are two sides of the same coin, and learning to recognise and respond to both can bring a profound shift in our physiological and psychological state.

Tuning Into Our Impulse To Thrive

Glimmers can manifest in different ways and will be personal to each of us. It could be the morning sunlight igniting your sense of hope and possibility for the day ahead. It could the laughter of a child, a melody that stirs your soul, the smell of freshly baked bread or the excitement of listening to a stimilulating talk.

It doesn’t matter what causes the glimmer, its about how it makes you feel. It’s like a micro-moment of feeling peaceful, clear and at ease with the world. Your emotional distress reduces, and suddenly you find yourself more in the ‘learning zone,’ capable of absorbing new experiences and connecting to others.

As Deb Dana says, ‘ you feel something happen instead, there’s an energy that happens around a glimmer, and your brain marks it then as well’.

In that sense, glimmers are like signposts. They don’t just signal pleasure or happiness; they are gently re-orienting us towards what helps us grow and flourish, in the same way that a plant reaches towards the sunlight. They are re-igniting our innate impulse towards thriving.

This stirring is subtle yet significant—a quiet beckoning to something greater. It’s as if you’re receiving an internal nudge to re-align with your deepest yearnings to grow, change and ultimately thrive.

Creating An Positive Spiral Of Change and Resilience

Despite being mere moments, glimmers can reshape our nervous system over time, leading to increased resilience and well-being.

By consistently tuning into glimmers, you’re essentially participating in a form of neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to reorganise and form new neural connections throughout life. Each time you consciously acknowledge a glimmer, you’re reinforcing a neural pathway that encourages a state of safety and wellbeing. Over time, this becomes a conditioned response, akin to a well-trodden path in the landscape of your mind. It’s not just a temporary lift in spirits but a sustainable shift in your baseline neurological state.

The beautiful thing is, this acts like an upward spiral. The more you tune into glimmers, the more naturally they’ll appear, and the stronger those neural pathways become. This is not about evading life’s triggers or challenges but rather about cultivating a profound trust in your ability to navigate them. You begin to foster a resilience, grounded in the conviction that you can shift states when needed. Essentially, you’re developing a form of ‘neuroception trust,’ a confidence that your nervous system can—and will—guide you back to a healing state of equilibrium.

Triggers and stressors may still appear; that’s an inherent part of life’s complexity. However, as you accumulate these moments of safety and well-being, you also cultivate an internal anchor. So, when life throws its inevitable curveballs, you’re not left floundering. Instead, you know you have a reliable, neurologically-grounded ‘home base’ to return to, allowing for quicker recovery and a more adaptable response to challenges.

So, glimmers become more than fleeting moments; they evolve into a steadfast resilience strategy, offering a dependable route back to a state of balance and wellbeing. By regularly attuning to these micro-moments , you’re not just grasping at temporary relief but building a lasting foundation of emotional and neurological health

Practical Tips to Experience More Glimmers at Work

Spot glimmers at work

Glimmers aren’t confined to personal experiences; they can be powerful tools for fostering wellbeing in the workplace. Teams that recognise and celebrate glimmers can experience higher levels of trust and productivity. Employers can cultivate a “glimmer-rich” environment by taking actionable steps:

  • Set an intention to identify a certain number of glimmers each day
  • Acknowledge glimmers with a specific phrase or gesture to give them due importance.
  • Document your glimmers, perhaps in a notebook, to keep them in your conscious awareness.
  • Capture glimmers creatively, like through sketches or haikus, to celebrate their impact.
  • Share glimmers with team members, building a culture of recognition and wellbeing.
  • Stop to savour the glimmer, allowing its full effect to sink in
  • Create rituals for spotting glimmers, fostering a collective sense of intentionality for cultivating a thriving culture

By making glimmers a regular part of the conversation, we make wellbeing a priority, not just for ourselves, but for everyone around us.

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