Stress is never helpful in life. Or is it?

In some cases, stress can motivate you to get something done in ways that were not possible when you were just sipping coffee at a roadside cafe or shooting the breeze on a beach somewhere. Stress happens when we lose control of a given situation, but it can also help us fight back and regain control, which is then motivating and helpful.

It's important to put stress in a box. Why is it happening? How can you fight it? What needs to change so you are not stressed anymore? What role can you play in reducing the stress? The fact that you are even interested in answering those question is a good sign. When you get stressed, it's a good idea to remember a few less obvious benefits as a way to push you into a higher level of productivity (and thinking).

1. It makes you more alert

The number one reason stress can be a useful motivator has to do with your increased sense of urgency. You become more aware of the situation, even if that "situation" is a traffic jam or a tense conflict with a co-worker. Learning to manage stress is important, and it's not a good way to live, but that keen awareness is a benefit if it means you are looking more closely at body language during a conflict, quickly scanning through sites that provide practical tips, or seeking out a mentor with helpful advice. Suddenly, you are on the fast lane to find answers. Stress is not fun, but if it leads to a positive outcome, it can be worth the pain.

2. It shows you care about the topic

Next time you are about to give a presentation to a group of investors or board a plane in a major snowstorm, consider this simple fact: Stress is a sign that you care about the outcome. I tend to get the most stressed about family issues, which is a good sign--it means I really care about my family. It's when you do not get stressed about a change in plans or a conflict that you should wonder why you are not stressed. When you do care, let that extra energy motivate you and make you work harder.

3. It teaches you to enjoy the times when you are not stressed

Stress, like hunger or a low number in your bank account or even a problem in a relationship, is always temporary (with apologies to those who work in the air traffic control or fire and rescue fields. Or anyone who works with Larry in accounting.) There is an answer. You will get through the problem, even if it takes time. Stress puts you into a mild form of shock and triggers a higher level of alertness, but it will pass. When you are on a hammock in Acapulco next week, relish the time of no stress.

4. It helps you find a quick solution

No one likes to live with stress on a constant basis. If you've ever missed a flight, you know how much a change in plans can motivate you to find another route home. That same sense of resolving something can work in your favor in business because you suddenly become much more interested in finding the right answer. I'm not saying you should create stress or look for it, but when it happens, consider the fact that you now have a slight advantage. You can be much more productive when you are stressed than the times when you are totally relaxed.

Those who learn to cope with stress and see how it can serve as a springboard at times will get a burst of productivity. Ironically, they will not be as stressed out. So what about the one case when stress is not a good motivator? Here it is:

1. It creates irrational thoughts

Stress that comes from not having enough information or that's based on an irrational fear is a poor motivator. You are creating the stress, which means you are not benefiting from any of the things I've already mentioned. All of your effort and resolve goes into manufacturing stress. You are a tiny stress machine, and you won't get as much done. If you constantly create stress even when there is no legitimate reason to be stressed, it could be a sign of a deeper mental health issue.