Definition of distress in English:

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Pronunciation: /dəˈstres/


1Extreme anxiety, sorrow, or pain: to his distress he saw that she was trembling
More example sentences
  • Considerable social stigma is associated with infection, which may cause psychological distress in the sufferer.
  • Caring for people experiencing mental distress is often complex and challenging.
  • They say that the school didn't protect her and that she's suffering emotional distress.
anguish, suffering, pain, agony, torment, heartache, heartbreak;
misery, wretchedness, sorrow, grief, woe, sadness, unhappiness, desolation, despair
1.1The state of a ship or aircraft when in danger or difficulty and needing help: vessels in distress on or near the coast
More example sentences
  • Three Kingfisher pilots searching for ships in distress radioed they had spotted life rafts in the stormy Atlantic.
  • Tasks undertaken have included searches, medical evacuations, and providing aid to ships and boats in distress.
  • Aaron continued telling anyone who was listening how the freighter ship Charybdis was in distress.
danger, peril, difficulty, trouble, jeopardy, risk
1.2Suffering caused by lack of money or the basic necessities of life: the poor were helped in their distress
More example sentences
  • A National Grid spokesman said today that the company did not wish to cause any distress or financial hardship to Mrs Craven.
  • 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.
hardship, adversity, poverty, deprivation, privation, destitution, indigence, impoverishment, penury, need, dire straits
1.3 Medicine A state of physical strain, exhaustion, or, in particular, breathing difficulty: they said the baby was in distress
More example sentences
  • 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.
  • Additional and more serious symptoms include eye infections, acute respiratory distress, and pneumonia.
2 Law another term for distraint.
Example sentences
  • 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.


[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
More example sentences
  • Lt. Col. Patterson said he was distressed at the news.
  • 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.
cause anguish to, cause suffering to, pain, upset, make miserable;
trouble, worry, bother, perturb, disturb, disquiet, agitate, harrow, torment
upsetting, worrying, disturbing, disquieting, painful, traumatic, agonizing, harrowing;
sad, saddening, heartbreaking, heart-rending
informal gut-wrenching
2Give (furniture, leather, or clothing) simulated marks of age and wear: the manner in which leather jackets are industrially distressed
More example sentences
  • 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.



Pronunciation: /dəˈstresf(ə)l/
Example sentences
  • In this stage, the patient uses the distressful affect to change the relevant contingencies.
  • Why should we make someone lead a painful and distressful life?
  • No one's life is free of distressful experiences and trauma.


Middle English: from Old French destresce (noun), destrecier (verb), based on Latin distringere 'stretch apart'.

  • district from early 17th century:

    A district was originally the territory under the jurisdiction of a feudal lord. The word is from French, from medieval Latin districtus which meant ‘the constraining and restraining of offenders’ indicating the right to administer justice in a given area. It goes back to Latin distringere ‘hinder, detain’, found also in distress (Middle English), and its shortened form stress (Middle English).

For editors and proofreaders

Syllabification: dis·tress

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