Difference Between Stress and Distress

Stress and distress are closely related. One could argue that distress causes stress or vice versa. Stress in a more “non-technical” meaning could mean the same thing as distress. In medical terms, however, these two have some identifiable differences.

What is Stress?

The definition of stress has evolved over the years and still evolving. The first ever definition was stated by Hans Selye, and he stated stress as “The non-specific response of the body to any demand for change”. In his definition we can see that stress is not defined as anything “bad” but, for people, definition of stress was predominantly bad situations. Currently we use the revised definition, “Stress is your body’s way of responding to any kind of demand”. However, the misconception that stress is a bad thing has not faded from our minds yet. When body identifies any demand either externally or internally certain chemicals are released in order to provide strength and energy to deal with stress. Some chemicals produce visible effects, and that gives us a sign when a person is ‘stressed’.

Stress can be caused by both good and bad experiences. While the fear of failing an exam is a stress, winning a game is also a cause for stress. The reasons may vary and make stress quite a personal experience. Stress can also be classified as survival stress (fight or flight response), internal stress (emotional stress), environmental stress (due to harsh environmental conditions and environmental fluctuations), and stress due to fatigue and over work. People who are stressed are often sick and tired, and weak in concentration. If a person always undergoes stress it may lead to high blood pressure, heart attack and etc.

What is Distress?

In common term, distress is the mixture of emotional states in a difficult situation. In medical terms, distress is defined as “an aversive state in which a person is unable to adapt completely to stressors and thereby resulting in stress and shows maladaptive behaviors”. So, when a person is distressed one of the ways to deal with it is to be stressed. But that is of course the negative way to tackle it. Some people find positive ways to handle distress such as by listening to good music, getting involved with sports and exercises, and helping others.

What is the difference between Stress and Distress?

• Stress is a response shown to external or internal stressors. Distress is the emotional state a person falls in to, when he or she fails to adapt to stressors.

• Stress could become a negative response shown by a person as a result of distress, but distress does not always end up in negative responses such as stress because some people take distress positively and respond in healthy ways.