Surprising new research shows that you can harness your tension to gain strength, energy and happiness.

For years, experts have warned about the perils of stress. Stress, they say, increases the risk of health problems, from heart disease and diabetes to depression and headaches. But the warnings haven't eased the problem. This year, for the first time in 10 years, the average stress level surged.

Experts say the rise may be due to the addition of an increasingly divisive political climate to the usual stressors of money, work, relationships, and—at this time of year—holiday obligations, which cause anxiety in 62% of people in the US, according to a 2015 Healthline survey.

Amid the hand-wringing, a growing number of researchers have begun to defend stress. New studies show that if people start thinking about everyday stress as a positive force, they can protect themselves from some of its damage—and use it to learn, grow, and thrive. "Our fight-or-flight response was designed to keep us safe and help us meet the demands we face every day," says Alia Crum, an assistant professor of psychology at Stanford University. In fact, stress helps make people stronger, faster, more energetic, and even kinder.