Three or four times a year, planet Mercury is said to go retrograde — that is to say it moves in an opposite direction to planet Earth. Planets move from east to west around the sun, and when Mercury turns to move from west to east instead, that's when Mercury is in retrograde. Many refer to this time of year as simply Mercury retrograde.

But this backwards movement is an illusion, similar to the one you experience when you're in a car on the highway moving faster than a train alongside you. The train appears to be moving backward, but it's just moving more slowly than you are. The same thing happens when our planet passes Mercury in our orbit around the sun. Mercury is just moving slower than Earth, causing the illusion that it's moving in retrograde.

Illusion or not, astrologers believe that during this time, it has an effect on life here on Earth, specifically within the realm of communication and technology. In astrology, Mercury governs communication, travel and learning.

For this reason, Mercury retrograde is blamed for everything from miscommunication to technological bugs, botched business deals, missed flights, a mechanical issue with your car or even a broken cellphone. But there is no science to back that up, according to Discover.

Astrologers believe you should take extra care during this time — don't buy a new phone, computer or car (lest it turn into a lemon), take extra care to protect your electronics (keep your phone in its case, be sure to keep your water bottle far away from your computer), double check your flight times, don't sign any business deals and avoid relationship-defining conversations.

It's a good time to pause, reevaluate and hold off on life-altering decisions. Astrologer Anna Payne explains to BuzzFeed some tips to get through Mercury retrograde:

  1. Take a deep breath; this won't last forever.
  2. Slow down, take your time and pay attention to details.
  3. Take care of anything that requires reevaluation and revision; this is a good way to channel this energy positively.
  4. Do you need to heal something from the past or connect to someone from the past? This is a good time to do it. This phase gives us a chance to retrace our steps and go revisit old ground.
  5. Observe, review and release. Remember to breathe!

Mercury goes retrograde three times a year for about three weeks at a time. The next dates for Mercury retrograde for the next few years are:

2016: April 28 - May 22; Aug. 30 - Sept. 22; Dec. 19, 2016 - Jan. 8, 2017

2017: Through Jan. 8 (see above); April 9 - May 3; Aug. 12 - Sept. 5; Dec. 3 - Dec. 22

2018: March 22 - April 15, July 26 - Aug. 18, Nov. 16 - Dec. 6

You can't always delay something like signing a contract, so it's important to read and reread the fine print. Of course, many don't believe in Mercury retrograde or astrology, but regardless, it's a good excuse to stop, think and reorganize yourself and your goals for the coming months.

Then again, you can do this anytime! As Nicole Gugliucci, a Ph.D. in astronomy says of Mercury retrograde and its supposed influences on technology: "I think it is fair to say that this particular phenomenon doesn't actually happen. The planetary motions DO have SOME effect on humanity however, at least for those of us who plan our observing sessions around the times when our favorite planets are visible in the night sky. Just don’t blame Mercury the next time your telescope drive freezes up."

Or if that new cellphone you just brought goes on the fritz.