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Astrologers Explain What Happens When Mercury Is in Retrograde

Learn the truth behind all the chaos that happens when Mercury is in retrograde.

As anyone who follows astrology knows, when Mercury is in retrograde, the world falls into complete and utter chaos. Mercury retrograding is blamed for breakups, train delays, and workplace spats. It feels like, until Mercury is done retrograding, all you can really do is brace for impact. But what happens astrologically when Mercury is in retrograde? And how does it effect your emotional and mental state? We consulted astrologers to get the low-down on what it all means.

Mercury retrograde
Morgan Greenwald / Best Life

What does "Mercury retrograde" mean?

When Mercury retrogrades, it appears to move backward through the sky. However, this is merely an illusion created when Earth and Mercury are next to each other on the same side of the Sun. In fact, astrologers refer to this phenomenon as "apparent retrograde motion" for this very reason.

"Because Mercury travels so close to the Sun, it retrogrades—or appears to move backward through the sky—frequently," explains Los Angeles-based astrologer Chani Nichols, author of You Were Born For This: Astrology for Radical Self-Acceptance. "It's a kind of optical illusion related to the speed of its orbit, similar to when you are driving alongside another car, said car goes slower, and it looks like they are going backward."

To put it simply, Earth and Mercury are always orbiting around the Sun in the same direction. When Mercury retrogrades, it merely appears as though the planet is moving East to West rather than West to East.

How long is Mercury in retrograde?

Mercury completes a full orbit around the Sun every 88 days, while Earth's orbit takes 365. Therefore, as The Old Farmer's Almanac notes, Mercury retrogrades approximately three to four times a year. In 2020, Mercury will be in retrograde from Feb. 17 to Mar. 10, from June 18 to July 12, and from Oct. 14 to Nov. 3.

What are some of the effects of Mercury retrograde?

To fully understand what happens when Mercury retrogrades, it's important to know about Mercury the Roman god, also known in Greek mythology as Hermes. One of Mercury's jobs is to guide souls to the underworld, and so during retrograde, Nichols says that "we can sometimes feel like we are on our own underworld journey, there to retrieve something essential to our forward movement."

In both Greek and Roman mythology, Mercury also "rules communication, travel, sales, and our ability to make sense of our world," Nichols explains. As such, during retrograde periods, these things are often "delayed, done different, rerouted, edited, or obscured for a moment," Nichols says—which is why "Mercury's retrograde is known for its ability to make communication and travel a little more challenging." Things traditionally associated with Mercury being in retrograde include "missed connections, lost documents, and miscommunications," she notes.

Given its reputation, there are some things you'll want to avoid during a period of Mercury retrograde. According to astrologer Rebecca Gordon, founder of My Path Astrology School, these include "buying technology or vehicles, starting a new business/partnership, signing new contracts, buying plane tickets, and financial negotiations." To compensate for all of the trouble Mercury retrograding causes, she says you should "build a lot of breathing room into your schedule, expecting the unexpected."

How much havoc Mercury retrograde wreaks also depends on when it falls. As The Old Farmer's Almanac explains, each zodiac period is associated with its own trials and tribulations. Mercury retrograding during Aquarius season, for instance, is usually associated with arguments and misunderstandings. Meanwhile, Mercury retrograding during Pisces season—like the one in 2020 during February and March—"may feel more emotional than most," says Gordon.

There is a silver lining in all of this, though. According to Nichols, when Mercury is in retrograde, it's a great time to reflect and grow as a person. "When [struggles] happen during this time, it can offer points of reflection for us around our communication style, needs, and areas for growth," she says. "Mercury retrograde teaches us the value of thoughtful reflection, reviewing our past, and editing out what we no longer need."

Gordon agrees, noting that "often during retrogrades, we gain a great deal of self-awareness as the past, present, and future all speak." Her advice during this tumultuous period is to "take time to reflect, realign, and make any course corrections." How exactly? By practicing self-care, cleaning up and decluttering around the house, or even planning a staycation. Ultimately, just try to avoid "left-brained tasks like writing up contracts," Gordon says. Instead, embrace "your more creative and spiritual pursuits," and you should be A-OK.

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