What Is Emotional Distress? An Overview

Updated December 13, 2018

Reviewer Rashonda Douthit , LCSW

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Emotional distress is legally defined as "a highly unpleasant emotional reaction (as anguish, humiliation, or fury) which results from another's conduct and for which damages may be sought." Although emotional distress is sometimes regarded as an ailment which some people should simply "get over," it's rarely ever that simple. The offshoots of emotional distress are quite serious; under some circumstances, individuals who have undergone emotional distress may be able to initiate subsequent lawsuits.

One of the first steps to understanding emotional distress is having an awareness of the symptoms which accompany this adverse emotional reaction.

Signs and Symptoms of Emotional Distress

Poor Quality of Sleep

According to WebMD, one of the strongest indicators of emotional distress is a poor quality of sleep. People who struggle with falling asleep, continuously wake up or just notice an overall decline in the quality of the rest they're getting each night may be suffering from emotional distress. If sleep woes are ongoing, they may be a manifestation of a larger problem. Sleep is paramount for each's well-being. Frequent lack of sleep can contribute to health problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure, kidney disease, and stroke.

Drastic Weight Changes

Similar to poor quality of sleep, drastic weight changes can be symptomatic of severe emotional distress. Extreme gains or losses in weight is something which should be noticed and promptly addressed. Sometimes, these alterations can be indicative of an eating disorder, such as anorexia or bulimia. Countless studies have affirmed that the preceding orders are not so much about food as they are about control. An individual who is suffering from emotional distress may feel powerless in their life, thus turning to their food or weight as a means of regaining control.

Sudden Outbursts of Anger

People who suffer from emotional distress are likely to struggle with temper control. This can result in them lashing out at minor provocations. Irate and uncontrolled outbursts of anger can have drastic and life-impacting consequences. These outbursts can alienate significant others, friendship, children, and coworkers. Someone who lashes at his or her boss or clients may open themselves up to severely damaging or ending their careers. Despite the heavy damages which can be brought about as a result of angry outbursts, there are generally internal warning signs which indicate the existence of rage. This should be handled accordingly, even if that means seeking outside or professional help.

Drained Energy

Believe it or not, an individual's inner emotions are strongly tied to their levels of energy. Happiness can give energy while sadness or despair can drain energy. Intense feelings of anger may provide temporary bursts of energy only to cause a significant and drastic "crash" later. At some point, the emotional distress which is left unchecked will begin to deplete the body's energy. This often results in the form of extreme fatigue, lack of motivation, and lack of interests in work or hobbies which someone usually enjoys.

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How to Avoid Emotional Distress

One of the best ways to avoid emotional distress is to steer clear of people, environments, and situations which contribute to it. This means surrounding oneself with positive people, maintaining healthy relationships, and frequenting the proper environments. Each of these things will impact one's emotional well-being or lack thereof.

Unfortunately, avoiding those who contribute to emotional distress is often easier said than done. Some people and relationships are initially healthy, yet become toxic over time. In other situations, one's work environment can serve as the trigger of their emotional distress. This can engender complications which can rapidly spiral out of control. At this point, the individual has some decisions to make. He or she can either remain around the sources of their emotional distress, or they can leave.

It can be difficult to let go of relationships or environments which one has become accustomed to or invested in. However, over time, the adverse effects of emotional distress will outweigh any perceived benefits of remaining invested in the entities above. One of the best decisions someone can make is knowing when to make and accept change. Sometimes certain doors have to close so that better ones can open. This is a decision that each person has to make for themselves. It cannot be forced upon anyone.

Work to Achieve Happiness

As simple as it may sound, one of the greatest weapons against emotional distress can be working to achieve happiness. Of course, this may be easier said than done, but with determination and dedication, happiness is a state of mind which can be achieved. Unfortunately, there are a plethora of misconceptions regarding happiness. Many people think that income, job title, fame, status, sexual attention, etc. will automatically make them happy individuals. True happiness does not come from external sources or individuals. The attainment of happiness, or lack thereof, is a conscious decision. Individual habits, decisions, and lifestyle choices can serve as tools to achieve happiness…or not.

Believe it or not, there is a certain psychology involved in achieving happiness. Of course, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to emotional distress, but Psychology Today does have some helpful hints for how affected individuals can rise above emotional distress and enjoy the perks of a happy life. First and foremost comes balance. So many people would be shocked to learn about how much a lack of balance contributes to unhappiness and distress.

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Balance

At its core, balance is about well-roundedness. There are a variety of ways for one to achieve a well-rounded lifestyle. First and foremost comes basic health. Each should work, sleep, and eat, at the bare minimum. More often than not, at least one of the things above takes a hit. Many people willingly sacrifice their sleep for the sake of getting more work done. Other purchase fast food because it consumes less time (and money) than either cooking or purchasing a healthy meal. While complete balance all day every day is virtually impossible, a balanced lifestyle is still something to be strived towards.

People who work late nights and long hours should, on at least a semi-frequent basis, take time for themselves. This could mean taking a day of work, sleeping in once a week, or even devoting one day to a technology detox; each has their idea of what rest means to them. So often, society glamorizes the notion of always grinding, hustling, and working hard to climb the corporate ladder, accomplish goals, etc.

Now, while hard work has merit, there is also merit in knowing when to relax. Many people would be shocked at how much emotional distress is tied to the inability to pause, regroup, and later return to the task(s) at hand. Taking a break can lead to greater productivity down the road, as opposed to continuing to push oneself even in the face of impending burnout.

Seek Professional Help

To this day, many individuals still struggle with the idea of seeking professional help. Sometimes this struggle is rooted in pride or ego. Other times, people have been led to believe that they can or should solve their problems on their own. There are even scenarios where struggling individuals are told that only weak or inadequate people seek out the services of counselors or therapists.

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Of course, the misconceptions above are ignorant at best and dangerous at worst. No matter how strong, knowledgeable, or informed someone might be, everyone needs help sometimes. This is nothing to be ashamed of. There is absolutely nothing wrong with asking for help, guidance, or an outside, professional opinion. Ongoing, emotional distress is one of the clearest signs that what is happening in the afflicted individual's life is not working.

Attempting to avoid emotional distress, surround oneself with healthy environments/relationships, and maintain a balanced lifestyle is all well and good. In some cases, simply making certain changes in one's personal life is enough to free them of emotional distress, which is amazing. However, this is not true for everyone. Each has their unique circumstance, and if someone's levels of emotional distress are increasing or failing to subside, professional help is paramount.

Here at BetterHelp, our number one priority is to provide assistance and guidance to anyone who reaches out to us. Our counselors and therapists are trained first to get to know you and then work with you too, not only vanquish emotional distress (or other issues) but also to help you improve your quality of life overall. We recognize that each has their unique challenges and obstacles to overcome. However, no one should be forced to go through these things alone.

Ultimately, the choice is yours; nevertheless, BetterHelp will always exist as an option and alternative. You can contact us at any time by clicking here.


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