If you have ever switched to a Mac from a Windows-operated computer, you know the immediate contrast in everything. In particular, the number of times Apple devices freeze is vastly different — Windows PCs are infamous for their frequent crashes, whereas Macs are deemed to be much more reliable.
However, despite the positive rep, any experienced MacBook user is familiar with the spinning wheel. They do freeze — but why does it happen and what to do about it? Let’s talk about the following:
- Main reasons Mac is frozen
- How to unfreeze Mac
- Mac screen frozen
- Mac freezes on startup
- Mac cursor frozen
- Unfreeze Mac keyboard
- Force quit when a specific app is frozen
- Mail crashing on Mac
- Chrome freezing on a Mac
- Firefox crashing on a Mac
Why does my Mac keep freezing?
One of the main reasons behind a Mac freezing is an overloaded CPU.
If you are one of those people that like to keep a dozen applications open thinking that you might use them sometime soon, you are definitely familiar with the crashes. You can check your background processes in Activity Monitor — simply open Spotlight Search (Control + Space) and type in “Activity Monitor” to get the app up.
If you don’t think that you have a problem with the number of apps you use, it could be one specific program that keeps crashing on its own, causing a total system meltdown. Maybe it’s out of date or is not entirely compatible with your computer’s specifications. Alternatively, it might be your RAM and hardware space — if there isn’t enough memory to store cash and write other types of immediate data, your computer won’t be able to function normally.
Other reasons for Mac freezing include an overworked browser (tabs or windows are open at the same time), outdated macOS or malicious software.
Fixing a crashing computer doesn’t take a genius. One thing is for sure — tapping every single key and frantically clicking the TouchPad won’t be of any use. To unfreeze a MacBook Pro or a MacBook Air you will most certainly have to shut it down or restart it.
If your cursor is working, go to the Apple menu in the top left corner of the screen and click on Restart. Otherwise, you can do it by using your keyboard — simply hold together Command + Control + Power button (in iMacs you’ll have the Eject button instead). It might not work — in this case, hold the power button for five to ten seconds to force shut down your Mac. Note that doing this means that you will lose all of your unsaved work.
When your Mac freezes, you may encounter the spinning wheel icon frozen on the screen. This phenomenon is a macOS analog of the classic Windows blue screen — basically a kernel panic where the entire system seems to give up. Sometimes you may even notice that you can’t move the cursor — we look at this problem in detail in one of the later sections.
The first thing to do whenever your screen flickers and freezes is to restart the computer. This will also work if you’re stuck on the login screen.
It may also be caused by a specific app. In this case, all you need to do is force quit. If you can’t use the Dock to do that, try the Command + Option + Escape combination to open the Force Quit menu. You can refrain from using the mouse or TouchPad entirely by navigating through it with the keyboard. You might want to specifically try force-quitting Finder as it’s often the culprit of this problem.
If your Spotlight’s index has become corrupt as a result of malware infection or system overload, you might get a frozen screen. If you think that’s the issue, you will need to reindex it.
When starting up your Mac, you will see the Apple logo and a progress bar underneath it. It can take a while to fully load, but what if you’ve waited for a long time and it’s still stuck? There are a few possible fixes to this problem.
First things first, restart the frozen Mac. You can shut it down by holding the power button for 10 seconds until it completely turns off. Then simply press it again to start up. If that doesn’t change anything, boot it in Safe Mode — it allows you to isolate the problem and find out whether it’s caused by a system process or one of the third-party apps and extensions on your computer.
How to reboot MacBook Pro in Safe Mode when frozen:
- Restart the Mac
- Press and hold the Shift key immediately as it starts booting
- Log in. You can tell if it’s in Safe Mode by an identifier in the top right corner of the screen saying “Safe Boot”
These are not the only possible solutions. You can also try unplugging all peripherals and restarting the Mac again — the problem may be caused by an incompatible external device. Alternatively, use macOS Recovery to repair your disk:
- Restart the Mac
- Press and hold Command (⌘) + R immediately as it starts booting
- Go to Disk Utility
- In the top left corner of the window, open the disk menu and click “Show All Devices”
- Repair all the volumes, then containers, and then disk (in this order) — they go from bottom to top of one another. You can do this by opening a volume/container/disk and launching First Aid
- Restart the Mac normally
A frozen cursor is most often caused by unresponsive apps. Although it’s unlikely that you will be able to use the Dock to close them, you can use the Force Quit menu and the Activity Monitor to end any process. To open the menu:
- Press together Command (⌘) + Option + Escape
- Use the keyboard to find the unresponsive app and force quit it by hitting Enter
Open the Activity Monitor through Spotlight:
- Press Control + Space and type in Activity Monitor, then open the program by pressing Enter.
- Double-click the frozen process and click on Quit, then confirm the action. You can also click on the cross button in the top left corner of the window.
If neither of these processes work, force restart the computer by holding the power button for ten seconds and starting it up again.
Pre 2019 MacBook Pro keyboards can be tricky due to the Butterfly Switch mechanism that they’re based on, which has caused multiple problems in the past. If it looks like a hardware issue, get the laptop serviced by a professional. However, if you’re certain that the problematic mechanism is not causing your Mac keyboard to freeze, try these things:
- Unplug any peripherals — they might be interfering with your keyboard’s signal.
- If you have an iMac, make sure Bluetooth is on
- Reset NVRAM: restart your Mac, press and hold Command (⌘) + Option + P + R as soon as it starts booting. Release the keys after the second startup sound or when the Apple logo appears for the second time
- Reset the SMC: shut down the Mac, press and hold Control (left side) + Option (left side) + Shift (right side) for seven seconds, then add the power button and hold for a further 7 seconds
- Release all keys simultaneously, wait for a few seconds and restart the computer
- Make sure you don’t have any malware
An unresponsive app can cause the entire computer to freeze and glitch. Normally, you would instantly force quit the program through the Dock. But what do you do if it makes your cursor stuck as well? There are other ways to exit applications that you can read about below.
How to close a frozen program on Mac
- The most basic way to kill a frozen app is through the Dock. Simply point the cursor at the app’s icon and right-click on it to open a drop-down menu. Then select “Force Quit” from the list. If you can’t see this line, hold the Option key and try right-clicking on the icon again
- You can also do it through the Force Quit menu. This is especially useful if your cursor is dead. Press together Command (⌘) + Option + Escape and use the arrow keys to navigate through the list. When you’ve found the unresponsive app, press Enter to exit it
You can kill apps through the Terminal—read on to learn more.
Sometimes Finder simply gets stuck. Whether while moving some files or seemingly out of blue, it can be disastrous when such a fundamental utility is down. If simply force quitting it doesn’t solve the problem, you can try deleting the preference file through Terminal.
Here are the steps:
- Open Terminal. Since Finder is down, you’ll have to resort to Spotlight: press Control + Space and type in Terminal, then press Enter
- Type in rm ~/Library/Preferences/com.apple.finder.plist — a command that will delete preference files from your hidden library folder
- Hit Enter
- Restart your Mac
Mail is known as a source of bugs and glitches on Mac. Some popular issues include the app freezing when you try to send an email to a new recipient, or attach a weighty file. Luckily, there are ways out of any of those problems.
Here are a few things you can try:
- Reset NVRAM. Restart your Mac and press Command (⌘) + Option + P + R immediately as it starts booting. Hold the keys until you hear the startup sound for the second time or see the Apple logo twice. Then release the combination
- Boot your Mac in Safe Mode. Restart the computer and hold Shift as soon as it starts up. You’ll see “Safe Boot” on top of the login screen. See if the issue persists in this mode, then restart the computer again
- If you’re using multiple user accounts, the problem might be down to just one of them. Test this by going to System Preferences → Internet accounts, then select one of the emails on the left and deselect the box next to Mail. Try using mail normally again. Once you have isolated which one of the accounts is causing the issue, remove it and add it again to the system.
Numerous users have reported Chrome crashing in Catalina, although it can happen in earlier macOS versions too.
- First and foremost, force quit the app and relaunch it
- If that’s no use, try restarting the computer — if the entire system is frozen, you can hold down the power button until it’s completely shut down and start the Mac again
- Boot it in Safe Mode to avoid losing data — simply hold down the Shift key when the system starts booting
- If Chrome is continually crashing, have a look at your extensions. If you know which one of them is down specifically, disable it. Otherwise, turn off all of them
- Open the browser menu (three dots in the top right corner) and go to Settings → Extensions. Uncheck the boxes or delete any extensions that don’t look familiar.
Lately, Mozilla users have been experiencing a problem with the browser quitting unexpectedly whenever they try to use it. Typically, this is caused by Firefox being out of date. Check if there are any updates available: click on the Firefox menu in the top left corner of the screen, go to About Firefox and wait until the page loads. If there are new versions available, you will see the Restart to Update Firefox button.
Firefox, as any other browser, is dependent on your operating system being up and running properly. Check if there are any updates by going to Apple menu → System Preferences → Software Update.
If you use plugins, they might be the cause of Firefox crashing. Use a different browser to go to the plugin’s website and check for updates.
Mac users often experience an odd Microsoft Word crash. Sometimes it’s due to a fault in the Office suite itself, or because of incorrect permissions. If you’re using a pirated version of the application, problems are unavoidable and most likely cannot be fixed. However, with a proper licensed version there are a few things you can do.
Start by updating the app and the operating system itself. If that doesn’t do it, boot your Mac in Safe Mode and see if that helps. You can also repair your disk through Disk Utility: open the tool through Spotlight, click on your drive and launch First Aid.
It’s frustrating when you can’t access your favorite songs that you’ve paid for. You may struggle to play music or even open the app at all — either way, there is a fix to Spotify freezing.
If simply force quitting the app doesn’t work, try updating your operating system and the app itself. Otherwise, reinstall it entirely.
- Open Finder and click on Go → Go to Folder
- Type in ~/Library and press Enter to go to the hidden Library folder
- Find the Caches folder inside it and delete the folder named com.spotify.Client
- Then go back to the Library folder and find Application Support, where you can find the Spotify folder and erase it as well.
- Following this, reinstall Spotify