For lots of people, the late 20s are a time of joyful chaos—they’re getting engaged or signing a mortgage (or the Big Apple equivalent: finally moving into their own apartment).
But it’s also a life stage that can bring up a ton of gnarly questions around relationship choices, career path, and other major life decisions. In other words, the struggle can start to feel very real around this time.
If you’re looking to pinpoint a cause for all this possible upheaval, astrologers say a good place to start looking is the sky. That’s because you’re probably just experiencing your first Saturn return.
Say what? During this celestial phenomenon, “the planet Saturn returns to the position it was in at the time of your birth,” says astrologer Ambi Sitham. “The first Saturn return takes place at around 28 or 29 years of age, and is very much a rite of passage into adulthood.”
As the planet that governs responsibility, Saturn’s homecoming is usually marked by a big-deal event that forces you to grow up, fast.
As the planet that governs responsibility, Saturn’s homecoming is usually marked by a big-deal event that forces you to grow up—fast. It’s not automatically negative, says Sitham—after all, even happy milestones, like engagements and babies, come with growing pains.
But for a lot of people, this can be a challenging time that manifests in an identity crisis (or, let’s be real, several). “Relationships or jobs that weren’t built on a firm foundation can fall apart,” says Sitham. “We reap the not-so-pleasant results of lifestyle choices—partying too much, making bad choices in love, or not being committed to our work.”
Sounds familiar? Fortunately, Sitham says there are things you can do to minimize the fallout and emerge into your 30s feeling more powerful than ever. And remember: If you can survive Mercury retrograde every few months, you can get through this once every 30 years.
Keep reading for more advice on how to handle your Saturn return.
Prepare to buckle down: The first thing that helps ease the pain of this planetary upheaval is simply understanding what you’re up against.
“Saturn is considered to be the zodiac’s stern teacher,” explains Sitham. “This planet’s themes are about hard work, diligence, and discipline—doing things by the book and persevering in order to reap the rewards of success and authority in time.” She claims whatever happens during your Saturn return is a result of karma—your past actions, good or bad, that’ve accumulated.
The best way to counteract its affects is by being prepared to work hard and learn from your mistakes; doing so might actually make this phase rewarding. (Even if it’s not so fun while you’re in the thick of it.)
Know the timeline: “Saturn returns can be felt for some time before and after the exact return—from around the mid-20s to early 30s,” Sitham says. These are known as shadow periods and can last up to 36 months themselves (yikes!) even though the planet only lingers in the sky at the same position it was in when you were born for about 10 months. (A Saturn return calculator can give you the exact dates of its planetary pit stop.)
So be aware that the actions you take during this transit may end up being super significant a few years down the road. (Hint: It’s probably a good idea to eliminate unhealthy relationships from your life.) If you’ve already celebrated your big 3-0, reflect on what happened around 28 or 29, and meditate on how you’ve evolved since then—or what residual effects are still reverberating that you might want to work on.
Study your chart: The main themes of Saturn return are the same for everyone, but the way they show up in your life will depend on your astrological chart. That’s why Sitham recommends researching what sign and house your natal Saturn falls in, as well as any major aspects it makes with other planets. (You can get a copy of your birth chart here.)
“Different houses govern different life areas, hence those life themes will be where each person’s unique Saturn return plays out,” she explains. “By understanding and preparing, you can harness the energies of your Saturn return so that it benefits you.”
For example, the ringed planet’s presence in your relationship house might indicate hard lessons with partners lie ahead; should it happen to fall in your zone of home and family, expect some shake-ups in those parts of your life.
This story was originally published on March 22, 2017; it was updated on July 9, 2018.
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