Stress is something that most of us try our best to avoid. Too much stress has been blamed for a laundry list of problems, from mental illness to high blood pressure to substance abuse. But what most people do not realize is that it isn’t so much the stress that causes these problems, but the manner in which we respond to it.

When you’re faced with a stressful situation, your brain releases certain chemicals, including epinephrine, corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) and arginine vasopressin (AVP). What these chemicals do is prepare your body for the age-old “fight or flight” response. Our ancient ancestors used these reactions to help them successfully flee from or fight off predators.

Since predators aren’t as much of a problem these days, our fight or flight responses are used to either fight back at our stressors or internalize the problem.

When you internalize your stress, that’s when you subject yourself to all those harmful effects you hear about. But if you take the energy that stress brings about and turn it into something positive, you can eliminate the problem and get ahead.

Of course, using stress to your advantage is easier said than done. But here are a few things to keep in mind:

* Stress can be an excellent motivator. Instead of letting it fester and cause anxiety, use it to give you an incentive to get things done. Tell yourself that you’re not going to let the stress get the best of you, and act on it. Turn that negative energy into creative energy to be put toward solving the problem.

* Put a little stress on yourself. It sounds crazy, but many businesspeople swear by it. Try setting short but attainable deadlines for your projects, and make sure you meet them. Provide a reward for yourself when the deadline is met if it helps.

* Aim high. Do plenty of research before setting your business goals, and set them at a challenging but realistic level. Having something measurable to work toward provides enough incentive that you just may forget about the stress of it all, even though that’s what’s propelling you ahead.

* Realize that you can’t win them all. Sometimes you’ll set a goal too high, or something unforeseen will knock you off track and keep you from getting the results you had hoped for. This is when stress tends to creep up on us. Don’t let it. Turn that negative energy into positive energy, and forge ahead.

Stress has gotten a bad reputation over the years, but it’s a natural thing that we all experience. And if we are aware and in control of it, stress can actually be quite beneficial. The next time you’re feeling anxious, take a deep breath and think of ways that you can channel that energy in a positive way. You’ll most likely find that the very thing that has held you back for so long can help you achieved more than you ever dreamed possible.