8 Ways to Fix Unresponsive Apps and System Freezes on Mac

Stressed Mac User Unsplash

Like any operating system, macOS is not immune to occasional hiccups in performance and responsiveness. Though these issues are few and far between, Mac power users should keep this list of tricks in their back pocket to mitigate any unexpected interruptions to their busy workflows. Learn how to troubleshoot sporadic app or system freezes and app crashing in just a few clicks.

Why Do Apps Freeze or Quit Unexpectedly?

If an application on your Mac freezes, it could be due to a number of bottlenecks, such as thermal throttling due to prolonged use of the CPU and GPU, lack of available RAM, or a bug present in the program itself.

Keeping a close eye on your Mac’s active applications using the “Activity Monitor” app will help you better understand your system’s activity threshold.

Quitting or force-quitting problematic apps before relaunching them is an effective way to remedy app freezing and app unresponsiveness. If your whole system freezes, it may be a good idea to restart your Mac, among other things.

1. Monitor Active Apps

If your Mac feels slow or freezes without warning, try activating the Launchpad.

  1. The Launchpad is located to the right of the “Finder” in the dock, and its icon depicts three rows of multicolored app icons.
Monterey Launchpad
  1. Use the search bar above the app grid to type in “Activity Monitor,” and select the icon underneath that looks like an EKG monitor.
Monterey Activity Monitor Launch
  1. Select the “Memory” tab from the menu above the list of running processes.
Monterey Activity Monitor Memory
  1. Analyze the real-time chart labeled “Memory Pressure” at the bottom of the window. This parameter indicates your system’s ability to meet the memory requirements of user-activated processes.
Monterey Activity Monitor Memory Pressure 1
  1. An upward peak on the chart illustrates higher memory pressure, which means that your system is closer to reaching its memory threshold. The higher the memory pressure, the more performance may be degraded.
Monterey Activity Monitor Memory Pressure Peak 3

Understanding Memory Pressure Indicators

When the amount of memory required to run assigned tasks on your Mac exceeds the available system memory, your Mac will begin to compress inactive RAM stored from closed apps to free up space for active processes.

If there is no longer enough inactive RAM to compress, a feature called virtual memory swap activates, allowing your Mac to temporarily access system storage as if it were RAM, which can dramatically reduce performance.

  • Green: no memory compression. Fast performance.
  • Yellow: memory compression is occurring. Normal performance.
  • Red: memory compression has maxed out, and your Mac will begin using virtual memory. Slowed performance.

2. Restart Your Mac

If your Mac is not responding as expected, or performance feels slow, restart it by following these steps.

  1. Click the Apple icon to the far left of the menu bar.
Apple Menu Monterey
  1. Select “Restart” from the drop-down menu.
Monterey Drop Down Menu Restart
  1. A new restart window will appear. Wait for the countdown to conclude, and your Mac will automatically restart or manually select the “Restart” button to begin restarting immediately.
Monterey Restart Countdown Manual
  1. You can tick the checkbox labeled “Reopen windows when logging back in” to automatically relaunch all of your current active apps following a restart.
Monterey Restart Checkbox

3. Quit Apps

  1. To quit an app that is behaving unexpectedly, click and hold on the app in the dock to reveal an action menu.
Monterey Dock App Action
  1. Let go of your mouse and trackpad before selecting “Quit” at the bottom of the listed actions.
Monterey App Quit 1
  1. Alternatively, you can quit a currently active app by holding down the Command + Q keys at the same time. This action immediately closes all of an app’s open windows and quits the app in just two keystrokes.
Monterey Command Q 1

4. Force Quit Apps

  1. If the steps listed above fail to quit an app, you may want to force the app to quit by first navigating to the Apple icon in the upper-left corner of the menu bar.
Apple Menu Monterey 1
  1. A new drop-down menu will appear. Select “Force Quit” from the list of actions.
Monterey Force Quit Finder 1
  1. Select the application that you would like to force quit or select multiple apps by holding down the Shift key while clicking the desired apps.
Monterey Shift Click Force Quit 1
  1. Click the “Force Quit” button to instantly force the app(s) that you selected to quit.
Monterey Force Quit Window Button

5. Update Your Mac

  1. Keep your Mac’s operating system up to date to avoid unwanted bugs, and optimize system performance by first launching the “System Preferences” app.
Monterey System Preference App 2
  1. Select the “Software Update” item from the “System Preferences” window.
Monterey Software Update Menu
  1. If there is an update available, a button will appear labeled “Update Now” or “Upgrade Now.” Select either button to begin downloading the update. This process may take several minutes.
Monterey System Update Button
  1. Once the update is finished downloading, you can install it by selecting the newly revealed “Restart Now” button that will appear inside the Software Update window.
Monterey Restart Now Button

6. Update Apps from the App Store

Updating apps that you have downloaded from the Mac App Store reduces the chance of apps freezing, running slow, or performing unexpectedly by ensuring that your apps are more optimized for newer versions of macOS.

  1. Launch the App Store from the dock.
Monterey App Store Launch
  1. From the left sidebar menu, select the list item titled “Updates.”
Monterey App Store Side Bar
  1. To update individual apps, select the blue “Update” button to the far right of each icon.
  2. To update all of your eligible apps at once, click the “Update All” button in the upper-right corner of the display.
Monterey Update Buttons

7. Reset the System Management Controller (SMC)

The System Management Controller – or SMC – functions as your Mac’s subsystem by managing tasks, such as video mode switching, battery, thermals, sleep/wake, system hibernation, and LED charging indicators. Additionally, the SMC enforces the macOS End User License, allowing the system to recognize machines that may be running on non-Apple hardware. Resetting the SMC may resolve unexpected behavior on your Mac.

Resetting the SMC on Mac Portables With User-Serviceable Batteries

  1. Click on the Apple icon in the upper-left corner of the menu bar to reveal a drop-down menu.
Monterey Apple Icon 1
  1. Select the menu item labeled “Shut Down.”
Monterey Shut Down 1
  1. Select the button labeled “Shut Down” to power off your Mac.
Monterey Shut Down Button 1
  1. Disconnect your Mac from power by removing the MagSafe adapter.
Magsafe Remove
  1. Remove the battery on your Mac.
Macbook Battery Remove
Image source: Unsplash
  1. Press and hold the power button for five seconds, then release it.
Monterey Power Button
  1. Reconnect the battery on your Mac.
Macbook Battery Replace
Image source: Unsplash
  1. Connect your Mac to power by attaching the MagSafe adapter.
Macbook Magsafe
  1. Press the power button to boot up your Mac.
Monterey Power Button 1

Resetting the SMC on Mac Portables With Non-User-Serviceable Batteries

  1. Shut down your Mac.
  1. Connect your Mac to power by attaching the MagSafe adapter.
  1. On your Mac’s keyboard, press the Shift + Control + Option keys and the Power button at the same time.
Control Option Shift Power
  1. Release your fingers from the keys, then press the Power button or Touch ID button to turn on your Mac.
Monterey Power Button 2

Resetting the SMC on Macs Equipped With the T2 Chip

  1. Shut down your Mac.
  1. On you keyboard, hold the Control + Option + Shift keys for seven seconds.
Control Option Shift
  1. Without letting go of the keys in the prior step, proceed by pressing and holding the Power button. Keep holding all four keys for seven seconds before releasing your fingers.
Control Option Shift Power 1
  1. Your Mac will power off. Wait a couple of seconds before pushing the Power button or Touch ID button to boot up your Mac.
Monterey Power Button 3
  1. If your Mac does not have a T2 chip, hold the Control + Option + Shift keys and Power button or Touch ID button. Hold all four of these keys for 10 seconds before releasing your fingers.

8. Reset PRAM/NVRAM

PRAM – or Parameter Random Access Memory – retains vital information, such as display settings, startup disk designation, and more for your Mac while it is powered off. NVRAM or Non-Volatile RAM maintains certain settings for your Mac that do not change while it is powered off or disconnected from power. Resetting the PRAM and NVRAM might resolve a number of common issues on Mac, so you can give it a try.

  1. Shut down your Mac.
  1. Press and hold the Power button or Touch ID button, as well as the Command + P + R keys.
Power Command P R Keys
  1. Continue holding all three keys until your Mac restarts twice, then release your fingers. On modern Macs, the Apple logo will quickly appear, then disappear, indicating two restarts. Older Mac devices indicate two sequential restarts by sounding the startup chime twice.
Mac Freeze Bootup

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I restart my Mac if the menu bar is frozen or not responding?

To force your Mac to shut down, press and hold the power button or Touch ID button until the screen goes dark. You may lose any unsaved changes in open documents when using this method.

How do I quit Finder if it is frozen or not responding?

Since Finder is the default file manager and file directory on macOS, users are not given the option to quit the program. However, users can relaunch Finder by holding down the Option key while right-clicking the Finder icon on the far left of the dock, then selecting the “relaunch” option from the pop-up menu.

How do I enable automatic software updates on Mac?

To automatically keep macOS up to date on your computer, open the “System Preferences” app and select the “Software Update” menu option, then check the box that says “Automatically keep my Mac up to date.” All Mac laptops must be connected to power to automatically download updates.

How do I verify whether my Mac has a user-serviceable battery?

According to Apple’s own support page, modern Macs do not have user-removable batteries, and attempting to remove the battery yourself may cause damage not covered by warranty. MacBook, MacBook Air, and MacBook Pro models with built-in batteries should only have their batteries replaced and/or serviced by an Apple Authorized Service Provider or at an Apple Store. If you own an older Mac and are not sure whether or not your battery is user-replaceable, contact an Apple Authorized Service Provider or an Apple Store to verify.

Featured image credit: Unsplash All screenshots taken by Brahm Shank

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Added new sections: Monitor Active Apps/Quite Apps/Update Apps/Update Mac Expanded on information included into the original article in sections SMC and PRAM. Added FAQ All new screenshots + featured image