Definition of distress in English:



  • 1Extreme anxiety, sorrow, or pain.

    ‘to his distress he saw that she was trembling’
    • ‘Only then will we avoid causing distress to our elderly by nursing home closures.’
    • ‘The treatment of choice for co-occurring marital distress and depression appears to be behavioral marital therapy.’
    • ‘Fourthly, patients' distress and their vulnerability to anxiety and depression are lessened.’
    • ‘Many may have developed explicit systems which seek to alleviate human distress by eliminative procedures.’
    • ‘Benzodiazepines can relieve the distress associated with agoraphobia but have only a temporary effect.’
    • ‘Complex social institutions have developed in response to pressures to alleviate the distress which behavior patterns can produce.’
    • ‘She was experiencing significant distress due to hot flashes and was referred by her oncologist for hypnotherapy.’
    • ‘Next, subjects were classified according to relationship distress as measured by the RAT.’
    • ‘The causative role of that trauma in patients' subsequent distress becomes clear.’
    • ‘Others, however, suffer great emotional distress associated with a lack of self-confidence and sometimes depression.’
    • ‘They began and ended therapy with profiles that represented a couple in serious relationship distress.’
    • ‘Mediated pathways were especially salient for understanding variation in adolescents' self-reported distress.’
    • ‘Several qualified female staff expressed intense feelings of distress associated with restraining patients.’
    • ‘Considerable social stigma is associated with infection, which may cause psychological distress in the sufferer.’
    • ‘They can be enforced whenever youths are harassing or causing distress to residents or businesses.’
    • ‘People who suffer emotional distress can turn to food to suppress their feelings, only exacerbating the problem.’
    • ‘Analgesics for chronic pain should be administered at whatever dose is required to relieve distress.’
    • ‘Family members and friends can lessen the patient's distress by avoiding disagreements in front of the patient.’
    • ‘They say that the school didn't protect her and that she's suffering emotional distress.’
    • ‘Caring for people experiencing mental distress is often complex and challenging.’
    anguish, suffering, pain, agony, ache, affliction, torment, torture, discomfort, heartache, heartbreak
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    1. 1.1The state of a ship or aircraft when in danger or difficulty and needing help.
      ‘vessels in distress on or near the coast’
      • ‘Just as the Missouri left Earth orbit a top order distress signal came through.’
      • ‘Wasn't the closest port in Indonesia when the ship received a distress call?’
      • ‘In doing so, you have helped a pilot in distress and are a credit to [Air Force] Air Traffic Control.’
      • ‘Aaron continued telling anyone who was listening how the freighter ship Charybdis was in distress.’
      • ‘The Federal Government was acting in contravention of maritime law by shunning a ship and crew in distress.’
      • ‘Our ships and aircraft received no distress calls.’
      • ‘The played disk quickly created an ambient background sound of a ship in distress.’
      • ‘Tasks undertaken have included searches, medical evacuations, and providing aid to ships and boats in distress.’
      • ‘The flight crew made a distress call and the aircraft landed safely on one engine around 14 minutes after take-off.’
      • ‘USS Gettysburg recently rescued four civilian mariners in distress at sea.’
      • ‘The Navy has made a valiant, but ultimately doomed, attempt to rescue a fellow seafarer in distress at Fleet Base West.’
      • ‘Three Kingfisher pilots searching for ships in distress radioed they had spotted life rafts in the stormy Atlantic.’
      • ‘Unwaveringly these incredibly brave volunteers get in the chopper and answer the distress call.’
      • ‘"We're picking up a distress beacon, " he explained.’
      • ‘It would continue to befriend foreign sailors in distress but would destroy any foreign ships that threatened its rulers or were violent.’
      • ‘The radio operator sent a Mayday distress call, which was logged by the local Coastguard station at 12.06 am.’
      • ‘With trousers flapping vigorously on the coastline Maritime rescuers might have taken him for a small sailing vessel in distress.’
      • ‘And next time there is a ship in distress in Norwegian waters, let's hope there is an Australian vessel nearby.’
      • ‘At the seaside, the coastguard reported a number of false alarms when ships mistook fireworks for distress flares.’
      • ‘Spanish ships in distress were to be permitted to seek refuge in English ports.’
      danger, peril, difficulty, trouble, jeopardy, risk, hazard, endangerment, imperilment
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    2. 1.2Suffering caused by lack of money or the basic necessities of life.
      ‘the poor were helped in their distress’
      • ‘As a councillor, I witness at first hand the needless hardship and distress caused to, mainly young, families waiting years to be housed.’
      • ‘He told planners he could get into financial distress if expansion proposals for the business weren't agreed soon.’
      • ‘We collected some money so that when we found instances of real distress over matters other than food we had a fund that we were able to divide up.’
      • ‘Many of the suicides in the countryside were triggered by the financial distress caused by the low rubber prices.’
      • ‘A charity for the homeless is marking ten years of relieving poverty and distress in the Chorley area.’
      • ‘By one estimate, medical expenses are the primary cause of financial distress for 40 percent of those struggling to hold on to their homes.’
      • ‘On that bus, dignity masks the distress of financial hardship and failing hope.’
      • ‘This financial distress is creating serious health problems too.’
      • ‘Meanwhile, the money is rolling in for the relief of distress among the victims of this appalling apocalyptic tragedy.’
      • ‘Some look embarrassed; their presence here all but announces financial distress at home.’
      • ‘A National Grid spokesman said today that the company did not wish to cause any distress or financial hardship to Mrs Craven.’
      • ‘But it is also required that the shopping be at a level where it impairs your job, or creates serious family problems, or leads to financial distress.’
      • ‘Farmers are subject to major disruption and families can suffer serious distress and financial loss.’
      • ‘Boston's Dance Umbrella, New England's major modern dance presenter, closed at the end of April, citing severe financial distress.’
      • ‘It also noted that another operational consequence of BWIA's financial distress was the long delay in regaining Category 1 status.’
      • ‘So, in advance of the Budget, the RAC Foundation called on the Chancellor to freeze fuel tax to avoid further financial distress.’
      • ‘Many have been separated from their families and loved ones for months on end, enduring great personal distress and financial loss.’
      • ‘The framers of the New Deal never considered day care as a strategy for alleviating economic distress, however.’
      • ‘The firm I worked for went through financial distress before lay-offs.’
      • ‘Both these parasitical forms of life are causing distress and hardship to average, hard-working Bermudians.’
      hardship, adversity, tribulation, misfortune, bad luck, ill luck, trouble, calamity
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    3. 1.3Medicine A state of physical strain, exhaustion, or, in particular, breathing difficulty.
      ‘they said the baby was in distress’
      • ‘Additional and more serious symptoms include eye infections, acute respiratory distress, and pneumonia.’
      • ‘As in other causes of acute respiratory distress syndrome, the mortality is high.’
      • ‘No significant differences between the various groups were found when the incidence of acute fetal distress was analyzed.’
      • ‘She was hospitalized with respiratory distress due to mediastinal masses compressing the airway.’
      • ‘Researchers first assumed startles were needed to arouse an infant beginning to experience respiratory distress.’
  • 2Law

    another term for distraint
    • ‘Nothing the bailiff did, in attempting lawfully to levy distress, could have begun to justify a resort to violence by another person present.’
    • ‘On 22nd July 2003 the father employed bailiffs to levy distress on Ash Waste in respect of £2,857 allegedly owed as rent.’
    • ‘W. Toronto changed locks and posted bailiff notice of distress.’
    • ‘Payments were not made under the LO and bailiffs were instructed to levy distress but were unsuccessful.’
    • ‘Speed had said that ‘when a statute says money ‘shall be levied by distress,’ that is an execution.’’


  • 1Cause (someone) anxiety, sorrow, or pain.

    ‘I didn't mean to distress you’
    [with object and infinitive] ‘he was distressed to find that Anna would not talk to him’
    • ‘On Saturday, Hat Hair and I sit in the park and drink beer until his quiet introspection distresses me and I leave.’
    • ‘Though these behaviors might distress people, they serve turkey vultures well.’
    • ‘Yeah, it distresses me how easy it is to fail the people who need us.’
    • ‘Lt. Col. Patterson said he was distressed at the news.’
    • ‘Many people are distressed at what has happened.’
    • ‘As a resident of Alastrean House in Aberdeenshire, I am distressed by the recent news that the house is threatened with closure.’
    • ‘It might distress people considerably, but no moral judgment can be applied because you have a totally wild encounter.’
    • ‘To merely contemplate moving human remains will distress some people.’
    • ‘The entire situation distresses the people profoundly these days.’
    • ‘I was distressed by this news; if not at Yale, then where?’
    • ‘That is not why the story of SIEV-X distresses me.’
    • ‘Only two weeks after writing this post, I am still distressed by the news from London.’
    • ‘But if it distresses you, I'll have Sean reconfigure the link.’
    • ‘Michelle was deeply distressed by Adam's news and she felt tears forming quickly in her eyes.’
    • ‘He reported that he was distressed by the news that one of his friends had relayed today.’
    • ‘He was very distressed and upset when he got home.’
    • ‘He had done every possible act to bother and distress her, including his attempt of a confession of love to her.’
    • ‘Elizabeth felt that he was distressed because she was right and he had upset her.’
    • ‘Mental health counsellors have set up crisis phone lines for people distressed by the shootings.’
    • ‘In Mexico, people are distressed by the possibility that biopharmaceutical corn could be introduced in the country.’
    upsetting, worrying, affecting, painful, traumatic, agonizing, harrowing, tormenting
    sad, saddening, pitiful, heartbreaking, heart-rending, tragic, haunting
    disturbing, concerning, unsettling, disquieting
    shocking, alarming
    cause anguish to, cause suffering to, pain, upset, make miserable, make wretched
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  • 2Give (furniture, leather, or clothing) simulated marks of age and wear.

    ‘the manner in which leather jackets are industrially distressed’
    • ‘So, I hereby grant you permission to paint that table, to distress it, to weather it, to paint it pink and stencil flowers around the edge if that pleases you.’
    • ‘The surface of the table has become distressed by time. There would be no space beneath such a thing to languish.’
    • ‘I use anything that is available to create a texture, make a mark, reflect light, distress the surface, etc.’
    age, season, condition, mellow, weather, simulate age in
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Middle English: from Old French destresce (noun), destrecier (verb), based on Latin distringere stretch apart.