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What Is Mercury Retrograde? An Astrologer Explains How It Affects You

Plus, how to thrive when the planet of communication is causing chaos

It’s become a bit of a joke that Mercury seems to be retrograde pretty much perpetually. It’s just one of the reasons people might blame running late or missing an email on the transit. Given just how often Mercury actually is retrograde, it feels easy enough to point the finger at the phenomenon for any number of “oops” moments. But what is Mercury retrograde exactly? It’s an astrological event that occurs when Mercury — the planet in astrology that oversees communication, transportation and technology — slows down and appears to move backward from our vantage point on Earth. This, in turn, encourages us to slow down and embrace the past before plowing ahead.

No matter what your daily life looks like, chances are you feel the pressure to hustle, be productive and on-the-go as much as possible. In turn, it can be truly challenging to slow down and find time for self-reflection. But that’s exactly what we’re encouraged to do several times during the year when Mercury is retrograde.

Because Mercury oversees areas of life that we rely on heavily every single day, it’s no wonder that we’re more likely to notice Mercury retrogrades. But, as an astrologer and the author of Mercury Magic: How to Thrive During Retrogrades and Tap Into the Power of the Messenger Planet All Year Long, I can confidently reassure you that it’s not only possible but advisable to work with and make the most of these periods versus fear them. Read on for all the details on what Mercury retrograde means and how to actually thrive through this frequently misunderstood astrological transit.

And for all things horoscope, click here!

How often is Mercury retrograde? 

The planet of communication is retrograde about 18% of the time. Mercury goes retrograde just about quarterly — every three to four months — and each retrograde is technically in effect for about three weeks at a time. But, like a thunderstorm, you’ll absolutely feel it moving in and moving out. The days it is most apparent are the ones on which Mercury slows to a near halt before reversing course or “stationing” either retrograde or direct. (Pro tip: It’s not accurate to say “Mercury is in retrograde.” Instead, opt for “Mercury is retrograde” or “Mercury is going/went retrograde.”)   

What happens when Mercury is retrograde?

mercury retrograde
SCIEPRO/ Getty Images

To understand what happens when Mercury is retrograde, it can help to first understand how Mercury functions when it isn’t retrograde — aka it’s “direct.” When Mercury is direct, it’s actually the speediest planet in our solar system, making its way around the sun every 88 Earth days. It’s the planet that oversees communication, information-gathering and sharing, thought processes, how we learn and make decisions, technology and transportation, and when it’s direct, all of these aspects of life run more smoothly. We can make strides, build momentum and feel like we’re generally, well, moving forward, like Mercury.

But when Mercury is retrograde, the planet’s typically zippy pace slows, and it appears to reverse its course across the ecliptic — or band of constellations that surround us on Earth. As a result, you’ll likely notice that the tone of the moment shifts in a way that you’re encouraged to retrace your footsteps, tie up loose ends and turn inward. A few experiences you might have when Mercury is retrograde:

You could be compelled to tie up loose ends — and rest 

The to-dos and deadlines of daily life might always be there, but anyone who has experienced burnout knows all too well that it’s pretty much impossible to push forward 24/7/365. Downtime and self-care are not only essential to our well-being, but finding room in our hectic schedules for both can ultimately boost our vitality and productivity. You can think of Mercury retrograde as the universe’s push to ensure that you’re giving yourself a break and tending to any unfinished business from the past. 

In fact, you could find that attempts to start new projects or move the ball forward on ongoing endeavors are foiled or slowed by technology glitches or miscommunications. When this happens, it’s a sign to do your best to focus on old business, which will ultimately boost productivity in the long-run. 

Yes, you might encounter delays and miscommunication

From finding yourself stuck in traffic that’s even worse than usual to getting wires crossed in everyday interactions, Mercury retrograde is best known for some of the headaches it causes. Sometimes, these aggravations pop up to teach us a lesson, like maybe it’s time to clean out your inbox so you won’t be as apt to miss important emails or perhaps you’d do well to revise an organizational system related to your finances. But Mercury is also referred to as the “trickster” planet for a reason. Oftentimes, Mercury retrograde setbacks serve no greater purpose and are just something to be aware of, like the weather. On a rainy day, you can expect to drive on slicker than usual roads. On a Mercury retrograde day, you can expect slowdowns and confusion. 

You’ll reconnect with the past and feel more nostalgic

woman looking through a photo album during mercury retrograde
Daniel Grill/Getty Images

Ever notice how paging through an old photo album, listening to beloved songs you haven’t heard in years, or telling stories about your family’s history can feel especially comforting at certain times? Mercury retrograde is likely one of those periods, given that it’s tailored to taking walks down memory lane. Similarly, Mercury retrograde often stirs up brushes with people, places and experiences you haven’t thought about in a while. You might hear from an old colleague out of the blue or reconnect with a former flame. Again, it bears noting that because Mercury is, well, mercurial, not every reunion is meant to revive a relationship from your past. It could just be an opportunity to reflect on how far you’ve come.

How to make the most of Mercury retrograde

Take advantage of Mercury retrograde by trying the following moves whenever the planet of communication is moving backward.

Prioritize your mental well-being

Mercury’s nature is highly cerebral, so when it’s moving backward, it encourages us to dive into inner work. From journaling to practicing mindfulness, deep breathing to maybe even ensuring that you get a little more sleep, devoting extra time to caring for your mental health is a wonderful way to make the most of any Mercury retrograde. 

Revise and reimagine how you’re going about your everyday hustle

If you’ve ever seen your natal, or birth, chart, you know that it’s split into 12 slices — aka the astrological houses, each representing a different area of life. Each house is associated with a planet, and two of the 12 are associated with Mercury: the Third House of Communication and the Sixth House of Daily Routine and Wellness. In other words, it’s a planet that we experience the effects of in a very apparent way as we’re going about our everyday lives. And when it’s retrograde, you’ll do well to reflect on your everyday life, schedule, work-life balance and mind-body practices. Mercury retrogrades present a chance to identify what’s working and what’s not — then make changes that could lead to feeling more centered in the long-run.

Hone your adaptability

Mercury rules two signs: air sign Gemini and earth sign Virgo, two of the mutable signs. Mutable signs are open-minded and thrive on experimentation and information-gathering. (There are two others, by the way: fire sign Sagittarius and water sign Pisces.) When Mercury is retrograde, you’ll benefit from embracing a more mutable — aka adaptable — disposition and perspective. That’s because whether Mercury is throwing a wrench in your perfectly-laid weekend plans or you feel like you’re speaking a different language than a loved one, you’ll do best to be flexible, find a way to pivot, and, ideally, laugh it off. (Your sense of humor can be a powerful tool during Mercury retrograde. Chalk it up to Mercury being the trickster planet.) 

When in doubt, do your best to remember retrogrades are just transits — in other words, transitory. They come and go, and when they’re over, you’ll typically find you’re more grounded and prepared for what’s to come

For more on Mercury retrograde, click below!

Mercury Retrograde in Aries 2024 Horoscope: What’s in Store for You From April 1 to 25

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