Definition of distress in US English:



  • 1Extreme anxiety, sorrow, or pain.

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

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


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