late 14c., distressen, "constrain or compel by pain, suffering, or other circumstances; harass," from Old French destresser "restrain, constrain; afflict, distress," from Vulgar Latin *districtiare "restraint, affliction, narrowness, distress," from Latin districtus, past participle of distringere "draw apart, hinder," also, in Medieval Latin "compel, coerce," from dis- "apart" (see dis-) + stringere "draw tight, press together" (see strain (v.)).
From c. 1400 as "afflict with mental or physical pain, make miserable." From early 15c. as "to damage;" specifically "damage a piece of furniture to make it appear older (and thus more valuable)" by 1926.
My particular job is "distressing" new furniture--banging, hammering and knocking it to give it the wear of time. This is not so easy a task as it seems. The smallest mistake may make all your work useless. In high-class "antiques" such as we carry, you have to satisfy not only the average person but people who go in for furniture as a hobby. ["It's a Wise Man Who Knows a Real Antique," Popular Science Monthly, June 1926]