What You Should *Never* Do When Mercury Is Retrograde—And What To Do Instead

Photo: Stocksy/Lauren Lee
Did you recently get a DM from an old flame, completely out of the blue? Or did your long-awaited vacation plans suddenly fall through at the last minute? If so, you may want to check your cosmic calendar because according to the universe, when Mercury is retrograde, occurrences of this sort are basically to be expected.

While you may be able to anticipate that certain snafus may occur when Mercury is retrograde, it's also helpful to know what not to do during Mercury retrograde so you don't unnecessarily press your luck. Below, you’ll find a Mercury retrograde survival guide that covers Mercury retrograde dos and don'ts, common retrograde misconceptions, and everything you’ll need to know in order to avoid Mercury retrograde issues.

Experts In This Article

Meaning of Mercury retrograde

Mercury is the fastest-moving planet in the solar system. Because it’s the closest to the sun, its orbital path is a little more speedy than its neighboring planets. When it passes Earth (which happens three or four times a year), it slows down a bit, making the planet of communication appear as though it's spinning backward—with the operative word being "appear." It's not actually spinning backward, but its slowed-down speed makes it look that way from our perspective on Earth. (This phenomenon actually happens with every planet in our solar system intermittently; even minor planets and asteroids like Chiron go retrograde, but it's just most frequent with Mercury since it passes Earth more often.)

Energetically, it's thought that when Mercury slows down, so, too, do us earthlings and all our pursuits in the areas of life over which Mercury rules, which include travel, technology, and communication (hence, why your Mercury sign meaning reflects how you typically communicate).

That means, during Mercury retrograde, it can feel like we're taking one step forward and two steps back, or otherwise struggling to complete tasks in these realms. "We can experience technical or mechanical issues, and our wires can feel crossed in all our forms of communication," says astrologer Ellen Bowles, co-author of Astrology SOS. "Planetary retrogrades are moments of collective pause and reflection. When Mercury retrograde occurs, we’re being asked to slow down and double-check the details."

"We can experience technical or mechanical issues, and our wires can feel crossed in all our forms of communication." —Ellen Bowles, astrologer

Mercury is considered retrograde when it passes Earth and enters that apparent backspin. (And if Mercury is retrograde in your birth chart, or if you have other retrograde planets in your natal chart, that just means the planet was retrograde at the moment when you were born.) But as for when Mercury retrograde ends? Well, it's technically done once Mercury appears to reverse its direction and return to forward motion—but during the couple weeks post-retrograde when the planet is moving forward over the same part of the sky in which it just backtracked, it's said to be in its shadow period, aka "retroshade."

And the same rules for what to do (and what not to do) during Mercury retrograde apply during Mercury retroshade, too. Astrologer Maria Sofia Marmanides, author of The Oracle Card Journal, says you can think of Mercury retrograde as a three-act play: “First Mercury is direct, and there is the rising action. Then Mercury goes retrograde, and that’s the climax, the drama, the plot thickening,” she says. “Then once Mercury turns back around again, you get your falling action and conclusion.”

Common retrograde misconceptions

There are plenty of common retrograde misconceptions, the first being that they're all bad. Despite its rough reputation, Mercury being retrograde (and really, any other planets retrograde) can actually bring certain cosmic benefits and can be embraced as an opportunity to lean into the moments of pause it inspires—AKA, there’s no need to panic. “I hope to debunk the idea that Mercury retrogrades are times of absolute chaos and upheaval,” says Marmanides. “Mercury is a trickster, so most likely what comes up during a Mercury retrograde feels like a cosmic prank and not devastation.”

Marmanides also wants to make it clear that life shouldn’t stop when Mercury is retrograde—which is another common retrograde misconception. “Mercury is retrograde about three times a year, so imagine if all Mercury-related topics—like communication, technology, and commerce—ground to a halt every single time it happened,” she says. That's just not feasible.

But is there a planetary influence on decisions you may be making? Well, yes. “You may be in a situation where you need to make a big decision during Mercury retrograde, and you can’t delay it, like signing a lease or accepting a new job,” says Marmanides. “It’s okay to do that, as long as you have a second pair of eyes to make sure you’re seeing things clearly.”

Effects of Mercury retrograde

How does Mercury retrograde actually affect your mental health, relationships, and daily life? Read on to learn what to expect, so you can better avoid Mercury retrograde issues.


When Mercury is retrograde, communication tends to go a little haywire, and because of that, some unexpected or unusual conversations and decisions can unfold.  “When Mercury travels retrograde, it can inspire us to reach out to people from our past—including, yes, texting our exes,” says Marmanides. That means you may get some surprising texts yourself.

Marmanides also notes that relationships that begin under a Mercury retrograde can encounter a later re-negotiation of the terms of that commitment. “This can be a good thing,” she says.

Mental health

While there isn’t any research finding that Mercury retrograde affects mental health, experts say it’s totally possible—primarily from the stress and anxiety that can come about due to common retrograde misconceptions and mistakes.

“Mercury is closely associated with the nervous system and can have associations with anxiety,” says Marmanides. “For this reason, Mercury being retrograde can sometimes be linked to mental health challenges arising, but often that’s because of the media-hyped nature of Mercury retrograde being synonymous with catastrophe.” Just remember there’s no need to panic. Take some deep breaths, follow the Mercury retrograde dos and don'ts below, and you’ll be just fine.

Daily life

It's fair to say you can expect plenty of everyday missteps during Mercury retrogrades. “When Mercury is traveling retrograde, prepare for delays, setbacks, and frustrations—usually in those areas ruled by Mercury, like communication and technology,” says Marmanides. “Save updating your iOS until after the retrograde because you’re likely going to deal with some new bugs or a software update that frustrates you in some way. If you’re submitting your finals online, give yourself extra time, as there could be computer crashes or gateway timeouts.”

You may think it’s silly to take these extra precautions, but Marmanides says even seemingly minor mishaps could lead to major consequences—“like, say, missing a meeting or doctor’s appointment, a flight delay that causes you to miss your connection, CC’ing the wrong person on an email, an embarrassing gaffe or typo, or signing a contract without understanding the full terms,” she says. It’s never a bad idea to double-check your comms during Mercury retrograde... then check one more time, just in case.

Mercury retrograde periods

Mark these Mercury retrograde dates in your calendar, so you know when the transit is set to wreak its characteristic chaos:


  • January 5, 2016 - January 25, 2016
  • April 28, 2016 - May 22, 2016
  • August 30, 2016 - September 22, 2016
  • December 19, 2016 - January 8, 2017


  • December 19, 2016 - Jan 8, 2017
  • April 9, 2017 - May 3, 2017
  • August 12, 2017 - September 5, 2017
  • December 3, 2017 - December 22, 2017


  • March 22, 2018 - April 15, 2018
  • July 26, 2018 - August 18, 2018
  • November 16, 2018 - December 6, 2018


  • March 5, 2019 - March 28, 2019
  • July 7, 2019 - July 31, 2019
  • October 31, 2019 - November 20, 2019


  • February 16, 2020 - March 9, 2020
  • June 17, 2020 - July 12, 2020
  • October 13, 2020 - November 3, 2020


  • January 30, 2021 - February 20, 2021
  • May 29, 2021 - June 22, 2021
  • September 27, 2021 - October 18, 2021


  • January 14, 2022 - February 3, 2022
  • May 10, 2022 - June 3, 2022
  • September 9, 2022 - October 2, 2022
  • December 29, 2022 - January 18, 2023


  • December 29, 2022 - January 18, 2023
  • April 21, 2023 - May 14, 2023
  • August 23, 2023 - September 15, 2023
  • December 13, 2023 - January 1, 2024


  • December 13, 2023 - January 1, 2024
  • April 1, 2024 - April 25, 2024
  • August 4, 2024 - August 28, 2024
  • November 25, 2024 - December 15, 2024


  • March 14, 2025 - April 7, 2025
  • July 17, 2025 - August 11, 2025
  • November 9, 2025 - November 29, 2025


  • February 25, 2026 - March 20, 2026
  • June 29, 2026 - July 23, 2026
  • October 24, 2026 - November 13, 2026


  • February 9, 2027 - March 3, 2027
  • June 10, 2027 - July 4, 2027
  • October 7, 2027 - October 28, 2027


  • January 24, 2028 - February 14, 2028
  • May 21, 2028 - June 13, 2028
  • September 19, 2028 - October 11, 2028


  • January 7, 2029 - January 27, 2029
  • May 1, 2029 - May 25, 2029
  • September 2, 2029 - September 24, 2029
  • December 21, 2029 - January 10, 2030


  • December 21, 2029 - January 10, 2030
  • April 12, 2030 - May 6, 2030
  • August 15, 2030 - September 8, 2030
  • December 5, 2030 - December 25, 2030

How to prepare for Mercury retrograde

According to Marmanides, there are a few prime ways you can avoid missteps during Mercury retrogrades. “Give yourself extra time when getting to appointments and double-check the times,” she says. “Make sure you have the right people copied on emails. Don’t send anything without proofreading.”

In addition, she recommends giving yourself extra time to work on certain tasks, because they may not go right the first time through: “Plan on having to redo things a few times,” she says. But that’s not all to keep in mind. Ahead, find all the Mercury retrograde dos and don'ts for smoother retrograde seasons.

What *not* to do during Mercury retrograde

1. Do not: Sign a contract

Making a big purchase that requires you to agree to a contract? You might want to wait, or else you could wind up making a major Mercury retrograde mistake. The planetary influence of Mercury on your decisions can cause your understanding of contractual agreements to get muddled. "If you have no other choice, double-check all the fine print or get a second opinion before signing the dotted line," says Bowles. "You don’t want to end up stuck in legalities you can’t get out of when Mercury stations direct."

2. Do not: Cut it close when it comes to travel

One thing that will undoubtedly have you asking, “When does Mercury retrograde end?” All the travel issues. So, leave extra time for any kind of transportation, and brace yourself for last-minute cancellations, traffic jams, travel-plan changes, and other missteps during retrograde. "See them as a divine redirection rather than a hassle," says Bowles, "and don't skip travel insurance policies, if possible."

3. Do not: Have a super-important conversation

Communication errors are one of the many celestial impacts on daily life to expect during retrograde. Expect a lot of, "That's not what I meant..." type of conversations, because the time is notorious for confusion, heightened emotions, and misunderstandings. Knowing that going in can help you remember to hold off on the major conversations, give people the benefit of the doubt, and avoid getting upset when you might normally be triggered.

4. Do not: Rely on technology in a big way

Technology glitches, coming right up. Be prepared for Zoom to fail mid-meeting and for phones to lose service unexpectedly. "Back up all your technology," says Bowles. "It’s common to have files go missing and experience technology crashes or software malfunctions during this time. Better safe than sorry!"

5. Do not: Respond to that, "U Up?" text from a toxic ex

Bowles says this period is a great time for self-reflection, but returning to past situationships or karmic partners may not be the way to get the healing you desire. "Instead, journal or talk out your relationship thoughts with a trusted friend," she says. "Reflect on why these old connections are being addressed now. What might you still have to learn from them?"

6. Do not: Start anything new

Similar to signing a contract, now is not a great time to start a new project or dive into any other novel plans—that’s one of the biggest Mercury retrograde mistakes, given your decision-making is likely a little bit off. Instead, pick up a project you previously set down, whether it's a book you're writing, a blanket you're knitting—really anything you've already started.

What to do during Mercury retrograde

1. Do: Reconnect with old friends

You already know to avoid texting that toxic ex. But Marmanides says now is a good opportunity to reconnect with old friends or colleagues—people “you haven’t heard from or seen in a while,” she says. If someone from your past pops into mind, there may be a reason for that or some way in which you could learn or grow from getting back in touch. (Perhaps you even choose to drop an actual letter to them in the mail, sans technology.)

2. Do: Declutter your space

Dreaming of a more organized space? “Closet clean-outs can be extra satisfying during Mercury retrogrades, as that’s a positive use of a need to look backward,” says Marmanides. This goes for the rest of your home, too, whether you’re looking at a cluttered pantry or basement. Get rid of anything you no longer love, and prepare for new beginnings come the end of the retrograde cycle.

3. Do: Revisit old projects

While now isn’t a good time to start on anything new, it may be the perfect opportunity to revisit an older project. “Mercury retrograde brings out the editor in all of us. It’s a great time to rethink, revise, redo, and recycle,” says Marmanides.

Frequently Asked Questions About Mercury Retrograde

What is the best thing to do during Mercury retrograde?

If you want to make Mercury retrograde a little easier on yourself, focus on limiting how it impacts your daily life. For starters, avoid stressing about it, if you can. Instead, view it as a chance to slow down. Give yourself extra time on things, be on the lookout for typos, double-check any plans you have, think before you speak, and read the fine print on anything you're signing.

What should you avoid during Mercury retrograde?

There's a long list of things to avoid doing during Mercury retrograde, as noted above. If possible, don't make big purchases or decisions, avoid travel (or be prepared for mishaps), steer clear of major conversations, and try not to rely too heavily on technology. Oh, and if you’re planning on starting something new, maybe wait a couple weeks instead.

What are the positives of a retrograde?

Remember: Mercury retrograde gets a bad rap—but astrologers agree, it's not all bad (promise). Think of it as an opportunity to pause, look back, and see what you might gain from a little self-reflection before charging ahead with life. In this way, the positives of a Mercury retrograde include a chance to revisit old projects you never finished, reconnect with old friends or colleagues, and do some decluttering in order to make room for fresh, new beginnings once this period ends.

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