Mercury Retrograde, Explained—and How to Survive When It Sets You Back

No matter how much astrology knowledge you have, it’s undeniable that Mercury retrograde is real. You love to blame Mercury retrograde for everything from missed emails to bad haircuts. But do you know what it actually means? Let me, a professional astrologer, break it down for you.

So, what does Mercury retrograde actually mean?

First things first, despite what you might have read on the internet, Mercury is never in retrograde. Mercury is retrograde—retrograde, meaning reverse. Mercury retrograde is when the planet Mercury appears, from our human perspective on Earth, to be moving backwards. Mercury isn’t actually moving backwards, though. It’s a visual phenomenon akin to when you’re driving very close to another car on the highway, both going at the same speed. It might appear like the other car is moving backwards as you pass them, but really you’re just very close. During Mercury retrograde—which happens about three times per year—Mercury is as close to the Earth as it gets during its cycle around the sun. This puts an exclamation point on all things Mercurial, like communication, technology and transportation.

Mercury is an extremely fast-moving planet. But during Mercury retrograde periods, its regular pace is interrupted.

Mercury retrograde can really be divided into three sections:

1. The pre-retrograde shadow: Mercury moves through a section of the zodiac, slowing down and coming to a complete halt.

2. The retrograde: The main event. Mercury moves through the same part of the zodiac for a second time, only this time it goes backwards.

3. The post-retrograde shadow: After coming to a second complete stop, Mercury moves forward through the same part of the zodiac for the third and final time.

When is Mercury Retrograde?

As mentioned, Mercury retrograde happens three times per year with the retrograde period lasting approximately three weeks. Remember though: Each retrograde has a shadow period before and after, which also lasts about two to three weeks, meaning that each Mercury retrograde holds influence for close to two months at a time! 

For example, the last retrograde of 2021 was September 27th through October 18th, with a shadow period in effect from September 6th to November 3rd.

The upcoming Mercury retrogrades are: 

January 14th - February 3rd, 2022 (with a shadow period from December 29th, 2021 - February 23rd, 2022) in Aquarius and Capricorn.

May 10th - June 3rd, 2022 (with a shadow period from April 29th - June 18th, 2022) in Gemini and Taurus.

September 10th - October 2nd, 2022 (with a shadow period from August 21st - October 17th, 2022) in Libra and Virgo.

December 29th, 2022 - January 18th, 2023 (with a shadow period from December 12th, 2022 - February 7th, 2023) in Capricorn.

How does Mercury retrograde affect us?

Now that you have the upcoming Mercury retrogrades marked in your calendar, let’s talk about what happens. Mercury retrograde does in fact cause delays, errors and technical glitches. Emails get sent to the wrong person. Instagram shuts down for an entire day. Your subway car gets stuck underground for close to two hours. These things happen, yes, but what Mercury retrograde is actually about is the opportunity to pause when they do.

While the planet of communication is going backwards, it’s good to do anything that begins with "re"—reflect, reconsider, revise, review, realign, etc. When your first email bounces back, take more care in your second attempt at a response. When your iPhone breaks, reflect during your digital detox. When your car’s in the shop, reroute your trip to work. Who knows who you might meet when taking the road less travelled! Sometimes pushing ever forward gets you nowhere. During Mercury retrograde, we go back instead.

Mercury Retrograde Do’s and Don’ts

If you want to get really specific, here are my top do’s and don’ts for Mercury Retro:

1. Don’t make any major tech or car purchases

Mercury rules all things tech and transportation. Software glitches and engine breakdowns aren’t just possibilities during Mercury retrograde, they’re the norm. If you need a new car, a replacement iPhone or even just a charger—truly anything involving wires—wait until after Mercury retrograde to buy if possible. Sometimes though, you have no choice. During a recent Mercury retrograde, I shattered my already water-damaged iPhone screen into oblivion, and had to buy a new one. I thought of this as Mercury telling me it was fed up with me using a phone that was less-than optimal for my business and daily communications. If you, like me, end up having to buy something during Mercury retrograde, just make sure you keep the receipt. It’s possible you’ll have to return it (yes, another "re" word). 

2. Do finish projects.

Mercury retrograde is a wonderful time to review and recommit. So if you’re sitting on a bunch of half-finished ideas, get to work! Depending on what part of the zodiac Mercury is moving through, you might be inspired to finally finish cleaning out your garage or complete that knitting project you abandoned last winter! Anything that requires technical skill and a slow, steady approach benefits during this time. 

3. Don’t rush.

As we know, Mercury retrograde causes delays and miscommunications, so if you have something important to say, take your time saying it! Proofread your emails and your text messages for typos or misnomers that could easily be taken the wrong way. If you’re dating someone new, they might be slow to set up dates, or you two might have incompatible schedules. Instead of getting frustrated, accept this as a learning curve and a chance to get to know their rhythm. 

4. Do keep things flexible.

Mercury retrograde leads a lot of us down a nostalgia wormhole, and you might find yourself thinking about an ex lover, a faraway BFF or a coworker with whom you fell out of touch. If you’re feeling an itch to reconnect, be the Mercury retrograde you wish to see in the world and send them a text. Another "re" word is, of course, reconcile.

You might also bump into old friends unexpectedly during this transit. Keep your schedule as flexible as possible so you can make the most of the run-in and take a lunch break to catch up rather than just saying a hurried hi. The point is to take the happy accidents and run with them.

Bottom Line

Mercury Retrograde isn’t so scary. Yes, Mercury retrograde has us running into plenty of speed bumps, but the point is to take it slow. The more you can accept that things aren’t going to proceed as usual, the more you’ll get out of it.

Jaime Wright is an astrologer based in New York. You can subscribe to her newsletter for more musings on the stars.