What Is Mercury Retrograde, and Why Is It So Stressful? Astrologers Explain

You don't need to be an astrology pro or have your entire birth chart memorized to be familiar with the notorious effects of Mercury retrograde. Surely, at some point, you've heard someone blame their troubles on exactly that. Nightmare commute? Computer crashes? Lost phone? It's all thanks to Mercury retrograde.

It may sound dramatic to speak so warily of what's simply an astronomical event occurring millions of miles away, but the mere murmur of the word retrograde is enough to have people all over the world sitting at the edge of their seats. But why does Mercury retrograde have such a hold on us?

For those wondering what all the fuss is about, read on to learn more about Mercury's meaning and significance, as well as what really happens when this planet retrogrades.

What the Planet Mercury Means in Astrology

If you're a fellow astrology enthusiast, you've likely come to find that "Keeping Up With the Cosmos" is similar to watching your favorite sitcom, especially when considering each of the planetary archetypes: the moon is emotionally sensitive, the sun loves being the center of attention, Venus is sensuous and irresistible, and so on and so forth. Mercury, the messenger planet, is usually the most sought-after — and when taking a closer look at this heavenly body's celestial persona, along with its mythological background, all the buzz around Mercury retrograde makes sense.

According to Roman mythology, Mercury was the only god able to travel in and out of the underworld, and as such was the go-to mediator between the gods and mortals. Mercury was an interpreter, translator, and transporter of goods and messages. (It's no wonder he's booked and busy.) Legend has it that the clever messenger god was often portrayed as a wise trickster, as well.

In Western astrology, Mercury is known as the planet of the mind, communication, transportation, and immediate resources, as well as Gemini and Virgo's planetary ruler. The closest planet to the sun, Mercury also happens to be the fastest planet in our solar system — traveling through space at nearly 29 miles (47 kilometers) per second, according to NASA.

How does Mercury show up in our everyday lives? Well, this swift planet knows how to create buzz. The savvy, silver-tongued messenger god rules all communication and conversation, as well as intellect, logic, awareness, transportation, and technology. Also, Mercury is so speedy, it brings the energy — and sometimes mayhem — with it. You'll feel the planet's influence in your texts and social media, quick trips and commutes, and mental processes. Mercury is also known as a "personal planet," because it oversees everything from our immediate exchanges to our local surroundings, as opposed to outer planets (i.e. Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto) whose energetic influence takes place at a macro-level.

There's no such thing as a coincidence in astrology, so another way to understand how this mercurial energy makes it itself known is to reflect on the dynamic of Mercury-ruled seasons, aka Virgo and Gemini seasons. Virgo season kicks off mid-August, which is right around the time when the hustle and bustle of back-to-school starts. Starting a new semester always comes with a bit of chaos, but in typical Virgo fashion, this is more of an organized chaos. The same happens around mid-May when everyone gathers for beginning-of-summer festivities. Having a packed social calendar is very fitting for Gemini season, but I digress.

Now that you've got the scoop on our friendly neighborhood Mercury, let's talk about Mercury retrograde.

What Is Mercury Retrograde, and What Happens When Mercury Is Retrograde?

Breaking news: Mercury doesn't actually move backward; it's an illusion. The word retrograde simply refers to the way the planet appears to slow down and backpedal through the sky. It only looks like it's moving backward because of its relative position to Earth while orbiting around the sun. And for the record, while Mercury's retrograde might be the most notorious, it's not the only planet that retrogrades; Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto all station retrograde at different points in time.

If you feel like Mercury is always retrograde, you're not imagining it. The planet retrogrades three to four times each year for about three weeks each time — and every time the planet slows down, so do we.

When a planet retrogrades, its energy is turned inward. In the case of Mercury, this has everything to do with one's thoughts, communication style, and immediate environment — which is precisely why we're more prone to miscommunications and general misunderstandings during a Mercury retrograde cycle. So, if you're having trouble getting your point across, or suddenly don't have a WiFi signal, now you know why.

What Is Mercury Retrograde Spiritual Meaning?

How a Mercury retrograde plays out will depend on the zodiac signs and elements activated, because this — along with any significant aspects (a.k.a. the planets Mercury comes in contact with) — is what will ultimately determine the type of energy we're working with during this specific retrograde cycle. For reference, here's a mini cheatsheet on Mercury retrograde meanings.

When Mercury retrogrades through a fire sign (Aries, Leo, Sagittarius)... we're called to reflect on our plan of action and the passion behind our musings. Consider:

  • Where is there a lack of creativity, happiness, inspiration, and motivation in your life?
  • Is something keeping you from exploring options outside of your comfort zone?
  • Can you look at the bigger picture of a particular situation?

When Mercury retrogrades through an earth sign (Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn)... we're called to reflect on themes surrounding financial stability, daily routine, and professional life. Consider:

  • Where is there a lack of practicality, stability, and resourcefulness in your life?
  • How can you be more consistent and productive with a particular goal?
  • Have you been working toward a realistic budget or plan?

When Mercury retrogrades through an air sign (Gemini, Libra, Aquarius)... we're called to reflect on our communication style and the way we gather information. Consider:

  • Are you missing key facts or information about a particular topic?
  • Is there a pending conversation or meeting that's been overlooked?
  • Have you read through all of your work e-mails and backed up your hard drive?

When Mercury retrogrades through a water sign (Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces)... we're called to reflect on what may make logical sense at first, but somehow goes against our intuition. Consider:

  • Have you been repressing your emotions for the sake of being overly analytical?
  • How can you make it a point to follow your inner voice and intuitive knowing?
  • Is your psychic radar absorbing energies that bring out the best or the worst in you?

How to Deal During Mercury Retrograde

There are, in fact, ways to harness the energy of this astrological event. See, the same way Mercury slows down in order to reflect, reassess the situation, and retrace its steps, we're also presented with an opportunity to do the same.

This may sound contradictory to what you're accustomed to hearing, but Mercury's slow-moving pace while retrograde is ideal for reading between the lines. For instance, since we're used to the planet's fast pace and mental chatter, Mercury retrograde allows us to see things from a completely different point of view. For example, if you're contemplating what you want your book concept to be about, or secretly hoping to revisit an important conversation that was previously swept under the rug, Mercury retrograde is an excellent time to go back and take another look.

That's another reason why this celestial event is known for bringing people from the past back around. Yes, you are more likely to receive a text from an old friend or love interest during Mercury retrograde — and by all means, don't hesitate to get the closure you need. Also, if you're not one to browse through your emails or direct message requests, now would be the time when you accidentally discover an unread message you may have previously overlooked.

Granted, we can't disregard the dark side of this transit, because we are more likely to miss the bus . . . literally. So, without panicking or over-analyzing, you'll want to make sure to not only triple check your travel itinerary, but also the messages you're sending and receiving. And if you have no choice but to sign a contract, this doesn't mean you're doomed: Just be sure to read the fine print before you sign on the dotted line. The same goes for your means of transportation. After all, Mercury is what ultimately determines how we get from point A to point B, so taking your vehicle to its scheduled maintenance check-ups is always a good idea. And if you have the choice to avoid starting anything brand-new, it doesn't hurt to hold off until Mercury goes direct (meaning, it starts "moving forward" again).