What Mercury Retrograde Means — and How to Use the Event to Your Advantage

Mercury retrogrades are notoriously known for their chaotic effects, but it doesn't have to be this way. Find out how to use the astrological event to improve your health and wellbeing.

planet mercury covered with mouths and broken computer surrounded by circular arrows on a nebula background
Photo: Alex Sandoval

Whenever you find yourself stuck in inexplicably heavy traffic while en route to your favorite hot yoga class, wanting to throw your fitness tracker across the room because it's glitching, or learning the texts you sent to your therapist got lost in the ether, you might wonder what you did to deserve this bad luck. Then you realize it's Mercury retrograde season, and find yourself asking what the planets are really doing up there to wreak such havoc on your life.

The most popular astrological scapegoat for any hairy, stressful life moment, whether it be missing the train to fielding texts from an ex? Mercury retrograde. And given that the planet of communication goes retrograde three to four times a year, there is a possibility it really is to blame.

But while it does have the potential to cause chaos, this occasional astrological event isn't as deserving of the freakouts it tends to fuel. And you can actually use each Mercury retrograde to your advantage to feel happier, healthier, and more vital. Here's what you need to know, including what happens when Mercury is retrograde, its effects, and how you can capitalize on the chaotic moment.

What Is Mercury Retrograde?

In order to understand how this astrological event affects your wellbeing, you first need to know the basic Mercury retrograde meaning. ICYDK, Mercury is the planet of communication, though it also oversees technology and transportation. Three to four times a year, it goes retrograde — meaning Mercury looks, from Earth's viewpoint, as though it's moving backward. Typically, the planets in the solar system appear to move from west to east through the stars, but every so often, they begin to look like they're instead moving from east to west, known as an apparent retrograde motion, according to NASA.

This optical illusion all comes down to the speeds of the planets, their location, and how quickly they revolve around the sun. Mercury is the speediest planet in the solar system, moving around the sun every 88 days, and is closest to the sun. Earth, on the other hand, completes a trip around the sun every 365 days and is the third closest planet to it. When Mercury passes Earth in orbit, it creates the appearance that the planet is moving backward. Each of these retrograde periods lasts for three weeks, so Mercury is technically retrograde about 18 percent of each year.

That 18 percent, however, doesn't account for the lead-in and lead-out period — known as the "Mercury retrograde storm" — which occurs before and after every retrograde cycle. During these periods, typically fast-paced Mercury begins to look as though it's traveling slower than usual just before going retrograde, and then the planet has to work back up to its full speed after this illusory deacceleration.Because Mercury travels through space so quickly, it's easy to feel the messenger planet's perceived slowdown and increase in speed. But there's one day when you'll feel Mercury retrograde's effects the most, which is when it "stations" (re: actually goes) retrograde or direct (aka moving forward).

Mercury Retrograde Dates

When is Mercury retrograde in 2022? This year, a Mercury retrograde will occur four times:

  • January 14 – February 3, 2022: Mercury retrograde in Aquarius and Capricorn
  • May 10 – June 2, 2022: Mercury retrograde in Gemini and Taurus
  • September 9 – October 2, 2022: Mercury retrograde in Libra and Virgo
  • December 29 – January 18, 2023: Mercury retrograde in Capricorn

What Happens During Mercury Retrograde

Since Mercury influences how you communicate and think, its retrograde phases tend to subject people to more blood pressure-escalating misunderstandings, possibly slower, sleepier thinking; aggravating technological glitches, transportation slowdowns, and scrapped travel plans.

But the notorious astrological event isn't that simple — or inherently negative. A Mercury retrograde is also an opportunity to step back from the perpetual hustle of daily life and spend time prioritizing self-care. There's a reason most personal trainers emphasize recovery as an essential part of any fitness plan, and that's precisely how Mercury retrogrades function. They're astrology's version of active recovery, nudging you to revise and reflect, to tie up loose ends on whatever you've previously started and need to address in order to confidently, and decisively move forward.

As such, Mercury retrogrades are generally a wonderful opportunity to revisit a beloved fitness routine you haven't done in forever, reconnect with workout buddies you've been missing, or revise your game plan for hitting your long-term wellness goals. It's the perfect moment for any endeavor that requires going back to the drawing board or retracing steps you've previously walked.

To get a sense of how any given retrograde will affect you personally, however, there are a few factors you'll want to consider. Just as planets move forward through the zodiac signs, they move backward through them as well. And depending on when a Mercury retrograde falls, the planet could be in any of the 12 signs at that moment and seem as though it's moving backward through that sign (and possibly the one that precedes it). Mercury moves pretty closely to the sun, so if it's going retrograde during Gemini season, it might look as though it's moving backward — at least for part of that three-week period — in Gemini. Once you've identified the sign(s) in which the retrograde is occurring, you can get a sense of how it might affect you.

Each sign is linked to a particular area of your life based on your natal, or birth, chart (which you can find online for free — CafeAstrology is one great resource). For example, if you're a Pisces rising, your fourth house of home life is ruled by Gemini, and your third house of communication is ruled by Taurus, so you can get a sense of how a Mercury retrograde will play out for you. And while any Mercury retrograde could influence your physical, mental, and emotional well-being, one that lights up your sixth house of daily routine will throw even more of a spotlight on health, for example.

How Mercury Retrograde Can Affect Your Health and Wellbeing

Given that a Mercury retrograde is astrology's active recovery phase, you might feel the same joys and frustrations that come with having to slow down in life. As much as you know you need to build in time to rest and recharge, actually doing so can be a challenge. Maybe you have definitive strength-training goals you want to hit in a set time frame, you're gearing up for a race, or you're planning to go on a fitness retreat that'll require a lot of travel — all while Mercury is throwing wrenches in your plans. But confronting that frustration head-on — getting curious and figuring out what it's really about — is the best way to cope and beat the stress that can come up.

You can — and should — still create change and pursue your wellness goals during a Mercury retrograde. Again, it happens so frequently that it's better to try to work with its energy than against it. Ultimately, what Mercury wants from you during these three-week backward spins is to prioritize looking inward rather than focusing on external aspects of life. Maybe you talk to your therapist a little more than usual, find new ways to care for both your body and your mind, brush up on your skills so you can teach a friend your favorite workout, or tend to an injury that you've been shrugging off.

How to Use a Mercury Retrograde to Your Advantage

To feel your best physically, mentally, and emotionally while experiencing Mercury retrograde's effects, lean on these pro moves.

Prioritize Your Mental Wellbeing

Mercury retrogrades are perfect for slowing down and stepping up your go-to routine for nurturing your mental and emotional wellbeing. Try stepping up your meditation game, going for nature walks, or checking in with your therapist more frequently. Most importantly, give yourself regular time and space to step back and practice mindfulness.

Upgrade Your Fitness Tech

Mercury rules technology, so its retrograde periods could inspire you to start relistening to a podcast you used to adore while going weekend runs. But because retrogrades can also wreak havoc on any kind of electronic device, be sure to back up your smart watch's or period tracker's data ahead of the slowdown.

Embrace the Unknown

In addition to being referred to as the messenger planet, Mercury is the trickster of the solar system. For that reason, Mercury retrogrades could be filled with twists and turns that might stress you out when you have a particular goal you don't want to waver from (think: finishing a marathon or a relaxing craft kit). To remain centered during this chaotic period, do your best to remain open-minded and flexible. Maybe your plans for that yoga-teacher training were foiled, but there's always a plan B.

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