Aloud, unexpected gurgle from your stomach, an uncontrollable urge to yawn, a galloping heartbeat before a big presentation. These disparate bodily activities — digestion, sleep, stress — all come under the purview of your autonomic nervous system, a network of nerves and fibers that extends to almost every organ in your body.

Like the autopilot in an airplane, this system constantly makes subtle adjustments to your physiology in response to your surroundings. If you confront danger, the ‘sympathetic’ arm of the system revs up your circulation to prepare you to fight or take flight. By contrast, when you need to rest or digest, the ‘parasympathetic’ branch kicks in, relaxing your organs and muscles.

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