[ dee-kuhm-pres ]
/ ˌdi kəmˈprɛs /
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verb (used with object)
to cause to undergo decompression.
verb (used without object)
to undergo decompression.
Informal. to relax; unwind.
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Origin of decompress

1900–05; translation of French décomprimer.See de-, compress


de·com·pres·sive, adjective
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2022


What does decompress mean?

Decompress means to release or reduce pressure.

This literal meaning of decompress can be used in several contexts. Divers who’ve spent time in deep water decompress by coming up slowly. Divers and other underwater workers sometimes decompress by using a decompression chamber. The goal of these processes is to return the body to normal atmospheric pressure in order to avoid decompression sickness.

In a medical context, to decompress is to release pressure in the body, such as from inside the skull through surgery.

Decompress can also be used in a figurative way meaning to relax or unwind. This sense of the word likens stress to pressure within the body that needs to be released. A close synonym is destress. An even more informal way of saying this is blow off steam.

In all senses of the word, the process of decompressing is called decompression.

Example: Yoga really helps me to decompress after a stressful day at work.

Where does decompress come from?

The first records of decompress come from the early 1900s. Its root word, the verb compress, means “to press together.” The prefix de- means “removal” or “reversal.” So, to decompress is to remove pressure.

For divers, decompressing can be the difference between life and death. The figurative sense of decompressing might not be quite as critical, but it’s still important. This kind of decompression can be done after any type of stressful situation, but it’s most often applied to what people do to switch off work mode. Sometimes, a day at work is like a day spent in deep water, with more and more pressure (stress) building up as the day goes on. Even after you finally resurface, you might still feel that pressure unless you find a way to release it. Different people decompress in different ways. For some people, their commute home is like a decompression chamber, where they can decompress by listening to music or a podcast. Others might decompress by exercising, meditating, reading, watching TV, playing video games, getting a massage, or spending time with friends. The best way to decompress is the way that works.

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What are some other forms related to decompress?

What are some synonyms for decompress?

What are some words that often get used in discussing decompress?

How is decompress used in real life?

Since most people don’t literally work underwater, decompress is most commonly used in a figurative way in the context of stress relief.



Try using decompress!

Is decompress used correctly in the following sentence?

Some people decompress by being active, and others decompress by doing as little as possible.

How to use decompress in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for decompress

/ (ˌdiːkəmˈprɛs) /

to relieve (a substance) of pressure or (of a substance) to be relieved of pressure
to return (a diver, caisson worker, etc) to a condition of normal atmospheric pressure gradually from a condition of increased pressure or (of a diver, etc) to be returned to such a condition

Derived forms of decompress

decompression, noundecompressive, adjective
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012