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What does Mercury retrograde actually mean? Here’s what you can expect

Mercury rules communication, so you can expect some breakdowns whenever it stations retrograde.
Mercury retrograde isn't all bad! If used correctly, we can use the time to reshape our lives for the better. 
Mercury retrograde isn't all bad! If used correctly, we can use the time to reshape our lives for the better. TODAY Illustration / Getty Images stock

Every few months, the planet of communication, Mercury, begins to slow down. For us earthlings, it means that life gets more tense and activity isn’t moving as fast as it once was. While you may want to hide underneath a rock during the weeks of Mercury retrograde, you’ll find that no one can avoid it — even if we try. 

This year, 2022, brings not just three, but four Mercury retrogrades. So we will be experiencing major cosmic shifts, changes and somewhat erratic activity throughout the year. Contrary to popular belief, retrogrades can also be a time of reflection — not necessarily the doom and gloom many think. If used correctly, we can reshape our lives for the better. 

What does Mercury retrograde mean?

Unlike what it sounds like, the planet Mercury isn’t actually moving backward; it’s just slowing down. Mercury normally moves faster than Earth around the sun. But when Mercury is retrograde, it is moving slower than Earth around the sun. (Mercury usually moves 88 days around the sun versus the 365 days that Earth does.) This creates an optical illusion in which we think that Mercury is moving backward.

Think of a train (Earth in this hypothetical) speeding past moving cars. When this happens, it looks like the cars (Mercury) are moving backward as the train is speeding up. It isn't true but it’s the way our brains and eyes assume it's happening. The reality is that the train is just moving faster than the cars.

What happens during Mercury retrograde?

Mercury rules communication, travel, news, information, gossip and technology. This means that we can expect meltdowns, false gossip, miscommunications, technology fails (which is why it’s best to back up files and contacts before the retrograde), issues in travel, missed connections and delays in hearing pertinent information. If you’re expecting a raise or promotion, it could take longer to get the paperwork in motion. If you’re planning a vacation, you may experience issues while away. Your smartphone could break, you could be accidentally billed twice by the cable company or an old friend or ex could even resurface in some capacity. An argument could also create tension in a relationship that will be all consuming during this transit. 

How do we handle this astrological phenomenon?

Being that Mercury retrograde is a planetary slowdown, it’s a good time to take note from the cosmos and chill in our personal lives. Take time to focus on what really matters. Accidents happen more frequently during Mercury retrograde, which is why it’s advisable to be careful and take your time.

Emails and texts may not be sent right away, our GPS could fail or we could just be exhausted from overthinking. Word of caution: Before putting your foot in your mouth, take a second and ruminate over the way the conversation will flow before jumping in. Editing is essential. Less is definitely more.

How can we thrive during Mercury retrograde?

Don’t rush through projects or speed when driving to work. Take a breath and move at a slower pace. Use this time to heal and transform old relationships and friendships. And, if you’re fighting with people, try to see matters from their perspective. The keyword is “patience” as we reassess, refocus and revise.

Do not fear the retrograde. All Mercury’s moonwalk is doing is showing us matters from a different perspective to offer clarity — which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Think of it as gaining a deeper level of consciousness and a better understanding of ourselves, others and situations. 

When will Mercury be retrograde in 2022?

January 14 — February 3, 2022

May 10 — June 3, 2022

September 9 — October 2, 2022

December 29 — January 18, 2023

What does Mercury retroshade mean?

Mercury retrograde also has a pre- and post-retrograde zone, meaning the planetary backsplash actually starts approximately two to three weeks before the astrological phenomenon is in full swing and lasts for two to three weeks after it ends.

I coined the phrase “retroshade” for these time periods because the weirdest, wonkiest and most frustrating things happen during these days. It's our chance to make everything right, which more often than not leads to more communication fails. But, if you’re open to it, there could be great moments in the retrograde to mend fences.