Definition of distress in English:

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Pronunciation: /dɪˈstrɛs/


[mass noun]
1Extreme anxiety, sorrow, or pain: to his distress he saw that she was trembling her fingers flew to her throat in distress
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, ache, affliction, torment, torture, discomfort, heartache, heartbreak;
misery, wretchedness, sorrow, grief, woe, sadness, unhappiness, desolation, despair;
trouble, worry, anxiety, perturbation, uneasiness, disquiet, angst
1.1The state of a ship or aircraft when in danger or difficulty and needing help: vessels in distress on or near the coast [as modifier]: a distress call
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, hazard, endangerment, imperilment;
insecurity, instability, precariousness
1.2Difficulty caused by lack of money: a company in financial 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, tribulation, misfortune, ill/bad luck, trouble, calamity;
poverty, deprivation, privation, destitution, indigence, impoverishment, penury, need, want, lack, beggary, dire straits
1.3 Medicine A state of physical strain, especially difficulty in breathing: 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 please don’t distress yourself
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, make wretched;
grieve, sadden;
trouble, worry, bother, arouse anxiety in, perturb, disturb, disquiet, agitate, vex, harrow, torment, torture, afflict, rack, curse, oppress, plague, dog
informal cut up
upsetting, worrying, affecting, painful, traumatic, agonizing, harrowing, tormenting;
sad, saddening, pitiful, heartbreaking, heart-rending, tragic, haunting;
disturbing, concerning, unsettling, disquieting;
shocking, alarming
informal gut-wrenching
rare distressful
2Give (furniture 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.
age, season, condition, mellow, weather, simulate age in;
damage, spoil, dent, scratch, chip, batter



Pronunciation: /dɪˈstrɛsfʊl/
Pronunciation: /dɪˈstrɛsf(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

Line breaks: dis|tress

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