This Is What Really Happens When Mercury's in Retrograde

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You've probably heard the term, "Mercury in retrograde," whether you're an astrology enthusiast or not. It seems to be a buzzword that gets tossed around these days, but do you really know what it means exactly?

Personally, although I consider myself somewhat knowledgeable about astrology—I've gone over my birth chart, I have the Co-Star app, I follow the AstroPoets on Twitter; I don't read my horoscope every day but I make sure I read my monthly one on Susan Miller's website—I didn't really know what Mercury retrograde meant.

All I knew was it's a time of utter chaos, where everything and anything can go wrong. I'd blame traffic or public transportation delays on Mercury in retrograde because everyone else was. I'd say it was the cause of an unlucky or awkward date, or something blowing up (not in a good way) at work. I took a seat on the Mercury in retrograde bandwagon without really knowing what it was.

But since we're exploring new forms of wellness, one being astrology, I decided to find out what it meant once and for all. I reached out to astrologer Alice Bell for answers.

What Exactly Is Mercury Retrograde?

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"Mercury orbits around the sun," Bell explains. "But during this time, it slows down in its orbit. Everything continues at a normal speed and it just appears that Mercury is moving backwards when really it's just slowed down."

What Should I Do During It?

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Because astrologers believe that Mercury is the planet that rules communication, travel, and writing, tasks or situations involving those things might be harder to do or accomplish. Bell says that a lot of people tend to blame the time period for everything going wrong in their lives, when really, it should be a time to slow down and think a little more. Work shouldn't stop, but it will go a little bit slower and some plans might not take off during this time. She says you shouldn't let astrology determine your decisions, and that Mercury retrograde shouldn't stop you from doing things.

"It's actually just a period of reflection where you're asked to step back and review what's happened in the last few months and what needs to change, and what you can work on before getting back into the action," she says. "So it's just a pause and I feel that's why people get frustrated because sometimes work stuff will get delayed or money won't come in at certain times. Those would just be the side effects, but not the whole thing."

Instead of seeing this as a time to freak out over things not going your way, Bell suggests looking on the bright side of things: "I think if you approach it with an optimistic attitude like, 'Yeah, this is great. I get a break with work. I get to review how far I've come.' I think that might make it easier because when you have a negative mindset, you tend to attract negative things to yourself. When you're positive and grateful, more opportunities are more likely to come your life."

And not all astrology signs are affected by Mercury retrograde the same way. Bell says that Virgo and Gemini are ruled by Mercury, so they might feel more affected by it. And some people who are born during Mercury retrograde might have an easier time handling it.

What Does Science Have to Say About It?

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To scientists, Mercury retrograde is an optical illusion. NASA says, "Retrograde motion is an apparent change in the movement of the planet through the sky. It's not real in that the planet does not physically start moving backward in its orbit. It just appears to do so because of the relative positions of the planet and earth and how they're moving around the sun."

So, What Does This Mean for Me?

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It all depends on whether you're open to believing in astrology or not, and there's no right or wrong answer to that, in our opinion. If you don't subscribe to the idea of Mercury retrograde, continue to live your life as you normally would. If you do adhere to it, don't get too frustrated if things don't go your way. Use the time for some introspection and planning.

"I think astrology in general, people like to blame their life problems on it. Like, 'Oh, he's a Scorpio. That's why we didn't work out,'" Bell says. "And [they] always see the negative, but astrology is really just a set of challenges that you are presented with and you have the chance to either overcome them and grow, or let them not overtake you."

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