The History of Stress in Very Small Bites: 1

I did consent,
And often did beguile her of her tears
When I did speak of some distressful stroke
That my youth suffer’d.

Here can I sit alone, unseen of any,
And to the nightingale’s complaining notes
Tune my distresses and record my woes.
William Shakespeare (1595) THE TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA

william-shakespeare-portraitFrom the vulgar Latin districtia (being torn asunder), through Middle French destrece,  Middle English distresses, modern English distress and, by aphesis, stress. Used in the 15th century to mean applied pressure or physical strain, in the 17th century the word stress began to be used to mean hardship or adversity.

In the 20th century, stress took on its current meaning of psychological disturbance, ill health and mental disease. Using the physiological concepts of stimulus and reflex arc, freudSigmund Freud enlarged the concept of stressors to include internal “stimuli of the mind” which he called instincts. As opposed to an external stressor, an instinct “never acts as a momentary impact but always as a constant force. As it makes its attack not from without but from within the organism, it follows that no flight can avail against it.” "Instincts and Their Vicissitudes," in Collected Papers of Sigmund Freud, ed. Joan Rivière, Vol. IV (New York: Basic Books, 1959), p. 69.