How to Fix It When Mac Keeps Freezing (5 Issues)

We all want our Macs to run fast and hate it if the machine keeps freezing (or completely frozen, sometimes). When that happens, frustration sets in. In this article, you’ll learn some common Mac freezing scenarios, along with practical fixes that work!

To save you time reading, we break down the scenarios into five sections. Just navigate to the right section based on the scenario that fits your situation.

Why Does My Mac Keep Freezing?​

Your Mac can freeze while running certain apps that are resource-hungry. Other times, macOS may hang up while you surf the Internet on Safari or Chrome. Or your Mac is super slow to start up, as you may have too many login items auto-launching.

Your Mac may also run slowly, hang up, or become totally frozen when the computer runs out of memory and it has to use the disk instead of RAM.

You can use iStats Menus to check real-time memory usage and other key performance metrics of your Mac. It’s also an app we recommend for diagnosing Mac issues.

iStat Menus is an easy yet advanced system monitor for Mac

Normally, the easiest fixes include reducing the number of login items, force quitting those frozen applications, updating your Mac to the latest macOS, etc.

Read on for how to unfreeze your Mac under different scenarios.

Scenario 1: Your Mac Freezes Randomly

If your Mac freezes from time to time even if it’s not running any third-party apps at all, or you feel there’s always a delay in responding to certain requests, it’s possible your Mac startup disk is almost full.

Another reason could be System Management Controller (SMC) needs to reset, as Apple says:

“These symptoms might mean that an SMC reset is necessary: … your Mac performs unusually slowly, even though its CPU isn’t under an abnormally heavy load.”

How to fix: clean up a disk drive, reset SMC

The best way to clean up your Mac drive is to use a Mac cleaner app, which can help you detect all types of system junk and unnecessary files. By doing so, you can quickly free up gigabytes of disk space.

As for resetting SMC, just follow the step-by-step instructions from this Apple guide or watch this YouTube video:

Scenario 2: Mac Freezes When Opening Certain Apps

It’s quite common that Mac freezes on certain apps, especially those poorly developed ones that demand more substantial system resources than they should.

macOS usually indicates the situation by popping up a notification saying the Application is not responding. This usually happens when your Mac is running heavy image or video editing software.

How to fix: force quit and keep the app up to date

The first yet no-brainer solution is: to keep waiting until the app unfreezes by itself. If it’s still unresponsive after a few minutes, try to force quit the application.

To do this, move your cursor to the application icon on the dock (normally located at the bottom of your screen). Then right-click on the app icon. Wait until a pop-up menu displays. macOS will then present the option for you to Quit.

Alternatively, you can click on the Apple logo, select Force Quit, then highlight the app you want to exit, and hit the blue “Force Quit” button.

Next, check whether the app has a newer version. For example, if you are using Photoshop, go to Adobe’s official website to check if the version you’re using is the latest one.

Those of you who are used to downloading programs from the Mac App Store can also go to Software Update to check if there’s a new update.

Bottom line: always keep your apps up-to-update because a newer version usually fixes bugs and errors that could eliminate app frozen issues.

Scenario 3: Web Browser Keeps Freezing on Mac

According to Apple Support Community threads, some users have been experiencing difficulties with Safari after updating their Macs to the latest macOS, such as web browser crashes or keeps freezing.

How to Fix It?

First, remove third-party extensions you recently installed. Because those plug-ins/extensions might be incompatible with the web browser you use.

Open Safari, on the top, click Safari Menu and select Preferences. Under the Extensions tab, select and uninstall the ones you recently installed.

If that doesn’t solve the problem, you’ll need to reset Safari. It’s also quite simple. Watch this video tutorial:

If the web browser continues to freeze, update your macOS. Make sure to back up your data before you do this. Updating macOS is a fairly simple process. Simply click on the Apple logo, the App Store option, and you’ll see the number of updates available.

Once updated, it should fix the browser’s freezing issues as well as other problems.

Scenario 4: Mac Keeps Freezing on Startup

If your Mac often freezes upon startup, chances are you have too many login items or launch agents. Those are usually applications, services, or server connections that run automatically when your Mac starts.

Another possible cause is the Non-Volatile Random-Access Memory (NVRAM) issue, as Apple puts in this article:

“…if your Mac starts up from a disk other than the one selected in Startup Disk preferences, or a question mark icon briefly appears before your Mac starts up, you might need to reset NVRAM.”

How to fix: optimize login items and reset NVRAM

Disabling unnecessary startup items is simple, just do a Spotlight search for “Users & Groups” (alternatively, click on the Apple icon, then System Settings, and click on Users & Groups).

See the Login Items tab? Here, you’ll find a list of applications and auto-start programs, feel free to remove those you rarely use.

Note: there may be some launch agents that do not show under Login Items, but they still run on startup. You can find and disable them via CleanMyMac (via Optimization > Launch Agents, as shown below).

Resetting NVRAM is easy and risk-free. Simply shut down your Mac and press the four combination keys as shown in this guide.

Scenario 5: Mac is Frozen Completely

If the entire system of your Mac is frozen and you can’t even move the cursor around. Your last option is to force reboot the Mac manually.

If you are on a MacBook Pro or MacBook Air, hold down the Power button (located on the keyboard for newer MacBooks) for 5 seconds or so, until the system shuts down completely. Then press it again to start.

If you are on an iMac, ​the Power button is on the back of the monitor. Press it for a few seconds and release it when your Mac shuts down.

Final Words

It’s annoying to see Mac keeps freezing or frozen to death, and that happens from time to time. Reasons vary from case to case. But there are things you can do to fix the issue, though it depends on what kind of “freeze” situations you’re facing.

One more thing: don’t forget to back up your Mac on a regular basis. Because when your Mac is totally frozen, you’ll have to force quit apps or reboot, during the process you may lose some files. A backup is the best protection plan for data disasters.

Have you managed to fix the Mac freezing issue? Or do you happen to discover a new solution? Leave a comment and let us know.

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  • Frank Havill

    My Mac Book Air which I purchased in December 2020 freezes up after approxmetly 1 to 1 1/2 hours of use. I have to force quit to get back to using the lap top! WHY??

  • Sanuga

    I have a solution for problem 5
    When you plug a external monitor in via thunderbolt port and use the mac it works perfectly. The only problem with connecting it to a external monitor is it is no longer portable. I also have problem 5 and when I boot it up in safe mode.
    Pls give me another solution

    • Sanuga

      Everything is frozen except for the power button, I tried plugging in a USB mouse and a keyboard but that even did not work

  • Dmytro

    Thanks, resetting SMC helps me!

  • turnkit

    Macs are garbage nowadays. Probably another Apple planned obsolescence move like their iPhone battery fiasco. I’ve had so many problems with my Mac Pro. Never again Apple.

  • Jan Earl Miller

    My 2012 MacBook 13” locked up after I download a software program that wasn’t from the Apple Store. Now it starts to boot up showing the Apple logo and status bar, but just as the status bar indicates boot up is complete, the screen goes black and the MacBook shuts down.
    Is there anything like a PC’s “safemode” I can utilize to boot up so I can delete the junky software?

    • Akeel1701

      I think there is a safe mode for Macs – hold down the shift key when you start up your mac

  • Linda E.

    My MAC Mini will totally freeze up, sort of. In other words, I can have 2 windows open, the first e.g. is playing a Youtube video, upon opening a 2nd window, it freezes to the point where I can no longer do anything except reboot the computer manually because the CMD+OPT + Escape are not accessible. Interestingly too, that video will still be playing in the background in that first window. My MAC freezes up randomly, maybe once a day, once a week or 3 times a day. It will even freeze up when opening e.g. System Preferences. I have had the system restored back to the “Day 1” status, thereby erasing everything and reinstalling the operating system. All cache, trash etc. have been deleted. Does anyone know what else I can do?

  • Nanette

    Of course, when I held the power button before -nothing. Then, when reading, hold 5 seconds, it reboots in 3! Thanks!

  • Jill

    Mac keeps completely freezing (frozen) on main account for no reason, don’t tell me it’s storage because I added another account downloaded the same things and it works fine.. please tell me if I can fix this.. each time I log into main account it freezes completely in 0:30-1:30 minutes

    • Hess

      Jill, I’m not sure that storage is out of the question. You can start as many accounts as you want , but they all run off the same drive . I apologize if I’ve misunderstood you. Open finder, select your hard drive and check “info” to see how much space you have left. Or you can use the “disk utility ” app under “utilities” Also, you may be running too apps at the same time, and might not have enough RAM installed to handle it. Your Mac ownership manual will tell you that 8 gigs of RAM is your maximum , but in truth , you can install up to 16.( You have 2 RAM slots, so you could put in say 4 gigs and 4 gigs, or 8 and 8 ect… If your mac is an older model ( up to 2012) your in Luck! you can trade out your own RAM EASY. If it’s more modern, I’m afraid its kind of a pain. Good luck

  • Rosa

    It’s frozen I can’t get in it’s a grey screen hasn’t been working for a week I’ve already tried restarting many times and the same grey screen pops up but my touchpad is frozen the arrow won’t move around

    • Hess

      Rosa, Try holding down the “command key and the “R” key while starting up. This should take you to a section in “disk utility” Select your hard drive and then run “first Aid” . Hopefully this will solve your problem.

  • kevin_why

    My recent (june/2019) issues were resolved on removing outdated nvidia/CUDA/GPU drivers from my Mojave 10.14.5.
    I had an external GPU for a while but moved that aspect of my life to a Windows machine for reasons of support.

    I noticed in MS Word that the window bar was occasionally getting scrambled. The freezing has since stopped and the Macbook become totally responsive (like the old days) since removing the NVidia drivers.

  • Joan Humphreys

    My i mac keeps freezing when I use finder. I am trying to organise my files into folders but Finder keeps freezing. I am now having to click on File/ New finder window. I then can work on that window but I can’t get rid of the frozen window unless I reboot the i mac or re launch Finder which sometimes works

  • Josh

    My gf always restarts the computer for some reason when logging in as guest and this always freezes my 2016 iMac ? it just shows the keyboard and mouse pictures and won’t respond to ANYTHING.. I usually have to unplug the damn computer but now even that is not working..

  • Hana

    I’ve been doing this many times but it still the same .I can move my cursor but when i click to something the cursor will change to a spinning circle. I’m stress

  • Tim Ebenstein

    Hi,My Macbook air powers on with a silver screen but has a folder icon that blinks with a question mark in the middle.What is that from ?and how do i get rid of it?Thanks for your time.

  • Roger

    Fairly recent development; occasional freeze, maybe once an hour,
    with no pattern I can discern.

    I can almost always gesture up my fingers on the touchpad
    for Mission Control, then do it again, and the clock and the apps
    all wake again.
    Occasionally that doesn’t do the trick, though.
    No smoking gun in the bewildering mess that is the console.