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Five Ds of Stress


Explanations > Stress > Five Ds of Stress

Desire | Doubt | Difficulty | Danger | Damage | So what?


Stress can be caused by a wide range of events, yet nearly all of these fit into one of the following 'Five Ds of Stress'.


When we want something but we cannot get it, then the desire acts as a stressor as we feel the tension of not having.

Arguably all stresses and tensions have a component of desire (for example when we doubt, we desire to know).

It is unsurprising that conquest of desire is a key aspect of many religions as it can be an all-consuming emotion that may drive some rather anti-social actions.


A child wants her parent to pay attention to her but the parent is busy and ignores her.

A sales person wants to customer to buy, but the customer is not convinced.


When we are uncertain about something, then we want to know more in order to become more certain. Uncertainty can lead to desire for more information and worry that lack of knowledge may be dangerous and lead to damage.

Sometimes we need information we do not have. Sometimes we have information that we do not know is true. The saying 'innocence is bliss' is true, and the innocent are not stressed. But when you know that you do not know something, then the doubt leads to uncomfortable stress.

Doubt and confusion may also appear when we cannot make sense of our experiences. We are constantly inferring meaning, and when we are unable to do this, we feel stress.


A child does not understand something in school lessons.

A sales person is asked to sell a product about which they know little and which they suspect nobody wants.


When we know something needs doing but we find we it hard or are unable to do it, then we feel the stress of difficulty.

A common form of difficulty is a lack of skill or knowledge that holds the person back. Another form is where needed resources, such as time, money or support, are unavailable.

We do need some difficulty, even though it causes stress, because overcoming difficulty is a key source of learning and happiness. Prolonged difficulty, however, is exhausting and stressful.


A child is asked to do some work at school but finds it hard.

A sales person needs people to help demonstrate a product but none are available, so they have to try by themself.


When we are threatened we anticipate damage and harm. The fear created can be very stressful.

Threat assessment takes up a significant part of our mental activity. We are not long out of the jungle where predators and danger lurked at every corner. There is still much to worry about in our daily lives.

As well as seeing short-term danger, humans are particularly adept at looking into the future and anticipated pain can be as bad or worse than actual pain.


A child worries include bullies in the playground and what parents will say about poor marks.

A salesperson is concerned that competing sales people will undercut them or otherwise 'steal' their customers.


Damage is actual harm to the person. This may be physiological, with body trauma that induces stressful states. It may also be psychological, with varying levels of distress.

Damage happens in the same way that risks occur as 'issues'. The effect may be short or long-term. The pain felt may range from small to significant. It may be possible to fix the damage or it may be permanent.


A child is told off by the teacher and then hit by a bully.

A salesperson is distressed by losing a sale and then, when distracted by this, crashes their car.

So what?

When working with stress, use these categories as a searchlight to identify stresses and consequently find ways to prevent or address them.

When using stress in persuasion, use these carefully and avoid harm to the other person.

See also

Stress Management


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