In Grande's Instagram story on Thursday, the singer posted a screenshot of a group text where she had shared photos of a brain scan. In the text, Grande sent a photo of three brain scans: one of a "healthy brain," which showed very few areas outlined, and the other of the brain of someone with PTSD, which had several areas of the brain highlighted. Below that text, she sent her own brain scan image, which had almost double the areas as the PTSD sample illuminated. "Hilarious and terrifying... not a joke," Grande wrote on the Instagram story. The context of these images is somewhat unclear (such as what kind of scan it was or when it was taken), but research has examined the many ways that trauma can change the brain.
In the face of trauma, people experience a wave of stress hormones that trigger the body's fight or flight response. As a result, traumatic memories aren't stored properly in the brain, and it's almost as if they're locked or frozen in time. There are various factors that affect someone's predisposition to developing post-traumatic stress disorder; about 20% of people will experience clinically diagnosable PTSD, although 70% of the population says they have experienced a traumatic event, according to PTSD United.
Symptoms of PTSD can include having flashbacks, repeatedly experiencing memories, avoiding reminders of the event, and having negative thoughts and feelings, according to the American Psychiatric Association (APA). Some people with PTSD also struggle with anger and irritability, which can lead to problems sleeping or concentrating.
Brain imagining studies have shown that PTSD causes brain dysfunction in a few key areas: the medial prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for decision making and emotional responses; the the amygdala, the part that aids in fear responses and pleasure; and the hippocampus, the part of the brain that is involved in storing and creating new memories. Luckily, trauma-based therapy, including exposure therapy and cognitive processing therapy, can be very beneficial in treating PTSD and reducing symptoms, according to the National Center for PTSD.
This is going to be a big weekend for Grande, who is headlining Coachella. Everyone's experience with PTSD is different, but for many survivors, returning to the scene of the crime (or a similar scenario) can be triggering. Hopefully Grande will have the emotional support she needs to get through any feelings or symptoms that arise.
If you are experiencing anxiety and are in need of crisis support, please call the Crisis Call Center’s 24-hour hotline at 1-775-784-8090.