Last updated: Apr 19, 2010

A report due yesterday, 100 ladybug-shaped cupcakes to make for the school bake sale (tomorrow morning!), and your mother-in-law arriving for the weekend … Feeling stressed yet?

That might not be a bad thing, if you know how to take advantage of it. While chronic or extreme stress levels have been linked to heart disease and hypertension, among other things, research suggests that moderate levels can actually boost your health.

“The positive aspects of stress are underappreciated,” says Ken Robbins, MD, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Here's how it works: When you're stressed, your adrenal glands release a cascade of hormones, including adrenaline, which ups your heart rate and boosts energy, and cortisol, which increases glucose in the bloodstream. When your body gets overwhelmed with these chemicals for weeks and months, you start to see ill effects.

But in short bursts (like a day or less) stress can make your body more efficient and your mind razor sharp. Heres how to use stress without letting it use you.

Stress makes you: Smarter
Channel it to: Strategize
Research from The Rockefeller University in New York City and the University of Buffalo suggests that stress can enhance learning and memory, thanks to the effect of small bursts of cortisol in the brain. So when you're too wired to go to sleep, don't force it. Sit down with that report or spreadsheet, and catch up on your rest when youre calm again.

Stress makes you: Nicer
Channel it to: Reaffirm relationships
When you're stressed, your body pumps out oxytocin, a hormone that facilitates bonding—making this is an ideal time to call your college roommate or connect with friends on Facebook. And you'll probably feel like doing that anyway.

"Women are more apt to seek social support when they feel stressed," says Paul Rosch, MD, FACP, clinical professor of medicine and psychiatry at New York Medical College. Oxytocin—and a good old-fashioned gabfest—can calm you, helping to make sure your stress levels don't go through the roof.

Stress makes you: Heartier
Channel it to: Heal your body
Bursts of stress may prime your body to battle future ailments. They can boost the immune system, with long-term effects, a study from the Stanford School of Medicine found. And you dont have to do anything—enjoy the protective benefits of short-term stress, and know that as long as you take some downtime later to breathe, your bodys got you covered.