Summary of Can’t Just Stop

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Can’t Just Stop book summary

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Science writer Sharon Begley offers a careful, empathetic compendium of compulsion. While extreme “compulsions,” such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), are so debilitating that the psychiatric community classifies them as mental disorders, they grow from the same seeds as many common coping mechanisms for anxiety. Begley examines compulsions, explains why sufferers “can’t just stop,” and explores psychiatry’s evolving perspectives and discoveries. This readable, compassionate work may prove very useful to those who suffer from anxiety or compulsion and to those who care about them. 

About the Author

Boston Globe senior science journalist Sharon Begley co-authored The Emotional Life of Your Brain and wrote the bestseller Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain.


Compulsive behaviors relieve anxiety and enable people to function.

More people in the United States suffer from anxiety than ever before. “Compulsions” – behaviors people feel compelled to perform – are mechanisms for coping with anxiety. They provide the illusion of control and mitigate anxiety enough to allow people to function.

Extreme compulsions stem from the same source as other human strategies to alleviate anxiety. Many people give in to mild compulsions, such as checking for text messages every few minutes, saving old newspapers and magazines, playing video games for hours, or hanging the bathroom towels just right. These activities may not provide joy or satisfaction, but the thought of not doing them escalates the compulsive person’s anxiety level. People suffering from extreme forms of compulsive behavior need help and compassion. For others, however, compulsions are adaptive and help them live more efficiently and happily.

Professionals and laypeople often confuse addiction, compulsion and impulsivity.

Definitions have changed many times over the years in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical...

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