Mercury in retrograde: What does it mean for you?

You always hear about dreaded mercury in retrograde. What does it mean and, more importantly, why should you care?

Stock photo of Mercury planet
(Image credit: Getty)

Three times a year, the planet Mercury gets a bad rap for moving into retrograde and disrupting our life here on earth—but what actually is mercury in retrograde? What does it mean for you?

If you're at all familiar with astrology, you know that Mercury is the "messenger" planet, associated with all forms of communication and travel. Accordingly, when it's in "retrograde," or moving in the reverse direction, people can expect mishaps and misunderstandings—anything from lost keys to bad break-ups can be blamed on Mercury.

So what does Mercury in retrograde mean for you? We have no control over the planets and their cycles, but here's a primer so that you know all of the important facts about this recurring phenomenon, and how you should deal with it in your own life. 

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Mercury in retrograde: What does it mean?

To understand mercury in retrograde, we need to go back in time. For thousands of years, people have been studying the stars. The ancient Babylonians began the practice, using the skies to help them predict seasons and celestial events. At the time, astrology and astronomy were more or less the same thing. In the 4th century BC, famous Greeks like Plato and Aristotle made the practice of astrology much more common and began connecting it to real-life situations.

In Roman myth, Mercury was the god of commerce, cheats and thieves. He was supposed to govern the circulation of people and goods, but he was also often accused of pulling pranks on people, even good and unsuspecting folks. Considering that reputation, it makes sense that the planet named after him would be associated with tricky business.

However, despite the mythology attached, there is some real-deal science behind the meaning of Mercury in retrograde. When a planet is in retrograde motion, it appears that it is orbiting in an opposite direction to other bodies within its system, as observed from a particular vantage point—in our case, earth. For Mercury, this happens three times a year. (More distant planets retrograde more frequently.) 

This illusion is brought on by the fact that Mercury moves so much faster than the earth in its cycle around the sun, it actually passes us. You know when you pass another car on the road and it appears to be moving backward? The same thing happens in the sky when Mercury passes the earth and continues its cycle beyond. To your eyes, Mercury has changed its direction. In reality, it's just so far ahead it appears to be behind.

When is Mercury in retrograde? 

In 2021, Mercury's retrograde cycles are: January 30 to February 21, May 29 to June 22, and September 27 to October 23.

Top view of woman holding smartphone and tablet with calendar on desk

(Image credit: Getty)

How does Mercury in retrograde affect you?

Because Mercury is the god of commerce and communication, these are the areas that seem to be most often affected when Mercury is in retrograde. People like to blame getting stuck in traffic, losing emails or texts, poor purchase decisions, and all kinds of other mishaps on Mercury in retrograde. 

According to astrologers, this is the worst time of year to sign legal paperwork or plan important business meetings or trips. Of course, some things can't be avoided, but it is always advisable to plan ahead and be extra cautious just in case.

How should you prepare for Mercury in retrograde?

Here's the deal: Mercury in retrograde isn't all bad. Obviously, things can go wrong during those few weeks when it's occurring, but things can go wrong at any time of the year, so preparation is key. If you want to be ahead of the game, there are several things you can do:

1. Plan ahead
Try not to make any huge travel plans if you can avoid it. If you do, make sure you don't rely exclusively on online tickets and registrations to get you where you need to be. If you didn't already, print a paper copy that you can hang on to as a backup in case you have phone or computer troubles.

2. Double-check messages.
Make sure that that last message was sent on time, whether it was over email, text, or other messaging apps. If it's important, however, you may want to go with a call on the phone to make sure it gets through. Or, hey, you could even try a real letter like in the good old days! In general, the best tactic is to try multiple methods just to be certain.

3. Slow down
Since it's usually inadvisable to make quick decisions during this time of the month, it's a great opportunity to slow down and do some reflection—really put a lot of thought into your plans, your priorities and your schedules. If you're like most people in this day and age, you tend to rush from one thing to another as fast as possible and often miss out on the big picture as a result. The next few weeks would be a great time to really reevaluate your priorities and make sure your decisions are carefully planned out. Light one of the best scented candles you've got, take some deep breaths with the best meditation apps around, and get to planning!

If you're looking at this list, you might be thinking that these tips are pretty common advice even when planets aren't looking weird. You're right! Whether or not Mercury in retrograde affects your life isn't the most important thing in the long run. You're in charge of making your life meaningful and fun. The decisions you make every day affect your relationships, your health and your future.

It's good practice to take all of these factors into account in your daily life so that you can really live life to the fullest. So be ready for Mercury in retrograde, but when it's over, don't forget the good practices that got you through it. They just might save you on the next irritating Monday, too!