Here’s what to do if your MacBook is frozen

Let me give you a scene from a nightmare for every Mac user: you’re doing an urgent task on your Mac, and suddenly… your Mac is completely frozen and you can’t click anything! Bone chilling, right?

Yes, it doesn’t happen often, doesn’t happen to everyone, but it can happen with every Mac. In this article, I’ll lay out the reasons why your Mac can end up frozen and give you super quick fixes you can try to restore its functionality.

Why is your Mac frozen?

There are several reasons why your MacBook can become frozen and many ways the problem presents itself (like you being unable to click anything). For example, you may see the dreaded spinning beachball. If you do, you’ll likely be able to move the cursor around the screen but not click anything. A more rare case scenario is when you can’t even move the cursor because the entire system is completely frozen.

Let me outline the reasons why your Mac could be frozen.

1. An application has hung.

    It is by far the most common issue. Applications in macOS shouldn’t bring down the whole system if they crash. However, sometimes when the error occurs, it will consume large amounts of memory or CPU cycles, meaning everything else on your Mac grinds to a halt.

    2. You have installed a driver or extension.

    Third-party drivers and extensions have access to deeper parts of macOS than most regular applications. If you have installed one that is buggy or incompatible with the version of macOS you’re using, it could cause your Mac to freeze.

    3. There’s a problem with your keyboard or mouse.

    Sometimes, what seems like a problem with your Mac, in reality, is a problem with other hardware. If you use an external keyboard, mouse, or trackpad, there could be a connectivity problem causing your Mac to be unable to move the pointer or control it with the keyboard. If you use a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse, ensure that the batteries are not out of charge.

    4. Your Mac has been infected with Malware

    Malware infection is not the common cause of Mac freezing, but still a possibility. For those who are not aware, Macs can be infected with malware. And one of the symptoms of a malware infection is a significantly increased load on the CPU and memory. If that happens, the load usually is heavy enough to cause your Mac to freeze.

    Here’s what to do if your Mac is frozen

    Force Quit Applications

    If an application has hung, it may only be temporary. So, wait a minute or two to see if your Mac unfreezes. If not, you will need to force quit the application. There are a few ways to do this.

    • Press Command-Option-Esc, select the application in the Force Quit window, and press Force Quit.
    • Right-click on the app’s icon in the Dock and choose Force Quit (if it only has a Quit option, hold down the Option key)
    • Click on the Apple menu, choose Force Quit, select the app in the Force Quit window, and press Force Quit.

    If force quitting the application doesn’t solve the problem, try force-quitting other applications.

    Restart your Mac

    If force quitting applications doesn’t solve the problem, the next step is to restart your Mac. If you can move the pointer and click, click on the Apple menu and choose Restart.

    If you can’t control the pointer, there are a couple of other things you can try, depending on the model of your Mac.

    • On a Mac that has a DVD drive, press Command-Control-Eject
    • If you have a newer Mac with the TouchID, press Command-Control-Option and the power button.

    In both these cases, your Mac should offer to save your work, quit all apps, and restart.

    If you have a Mac that does have TouchID or the options above don’t work, you will need to force restart it. Press and hold the power button, wait for it to power off, then wait a few seconds more before releasing the power button. Your Mac should restart normally.

    Tip:

    The other reason your Mac freezes and you can’t click anything is that an application lacks memory. When that happens, it consumes more and more RAM until there is none left for other apps. I use CleanMymac X, which warns me when an application is hogging lots of RAM. CleanMyMac X shows you which apps consume lots of RAM and display the current status of things like CPU and network usage. What’s more, the app will notify you when your Mac is running short of RAM and offer to free it up for you.

    Free up Mac RAM with CleanMyMacX

    Freeing up RAM is just one of CleanMyMac X’s Maintenance module tools. It also repairs disk permissions, runs maintenance scripts, and thins out Time Machine snapshots. If you use it regularly, it reduces the chances of your Mac freezing in the future. You can download it for free here.



    How to prevent your Mac from future freezing

    Once you’ve unfrozen your Mac and you can use it again, you should investigate why this happened in the first place. If you don’t eliminate the cause, it will probably happen again.

    Here are a few ways to eliminate possible causes and prevent them from happening again:

    • Check for macOS updates. Click on the Apple menu and choose About this Mac, then click Software Update. If there is an update available, install it. While you’re there, check the box labeled ‘Automatically keep my Mac up to date.’
    • Update your Apps. Launch the App Store app and check for updates. Install if any available. For apps you didn’t download from the App Store, click on the application name in the menu bar and choose Check for Updates.
    • Repair your boot disk in Disk Utility. Go to Applications > Utilities and launch Disk Utility. Select your boot disk in the sidebar and click First Aid in the toolbar.
    • Use a different web browser. Not all web browsers are the same. For example, Chrome on the Mac often uses lots of memory and CPU cycles, mainly when many tabs are open. Try using Safari instead. Whichever browser you use, limit the number of open tabs. Remember, each open tab consumes resources!
    • Uninstall browser extensions you don’t use. While we’re on the subject of web browsers. Extensions can often cause problems, some of which may cause your Mac to freeze. It’s especially true if you don’t keep them up to date. It’s best to uninstall any you don’t use and regularly update those you hold.
    • Don’t just drag apps to the trash to uninstall them. Trashing an application binary file (which lives in your Applications folder) doesn’t uninstall the application. It leaves behind fragments that can cause issues later on. Use a dedicated uninstaller, such as the one in CleanMyMac X.
    • Scan your Mac for malware. It’s possible to avoid malware on your Mac by being sensible about clicking links and giving permission to apps and services. However, to be safe, it’s worth scanning your Mac for malware regularly using an application designed for the job. By the way, CleanMyMac X also has the Malware Removal module you can try.
    • Use Activity Monitor. Activity Monitor is a handy tool for identifying which apps and processes consume lots of resources on your Mac. When you notice your Mac becoming sluggish, go to Applications > Utilities and launch it from there. Click at the top of the CPU column to order processes from highest to lowest CPU usage. Then do the same for the Memory column and RAM.

    If your MacBook is frozen and you can’t click anything, don’t worry. Follow the steps above to fix the issue, then use the tips to prevent it from happening again. The key is to keep your Mac well maintained and free from apps or extensions you don’t use. So no more Mac freezing! Stay tuned for more Mac tips and tricks.

    Laptop with CleanMyMac
    CleanMyMac X

    Your Mac. As good as new.