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]