It has been a woeful start to the investing year for many equity investors and the outlook for the remainder of the year is looking increasingly uncertain. The S&P/ASX 200 (Index: ^AXJO) (ASX:XJO) is already down by more than 7.6% since the start of the year and it looks like the next few weeks could be just as volatile.

When fear and uncertainty grip the markets, some investors prefer to sell out of their shares and sit on the sidelines, some just hold on for the ride and some investors choose to add to their positions.

What decision you make will often depend on your risk tolerance and the make up of your portfolio. During times of uncertainty, income and defensive stocks tend to outperform the broader market and this has once again proven to be the case during the current period of volatility.

It is obvious that no single stock is immune to a market crash, but the addition of high-quality defensive stocks to your portfolio could help to cushion the falls in the broader market.

With that in mind, here are three shares you could consider buying during a bear market:

1. CSL Limited (ASX: CSL) – Shares of CSL have fallen by less than 2% since the start of the year and have significantly outperformed the broader market over the past decade. Although CSL is often considered a defensive stock, it should also be considered a growth stock as it has delivered annualised earnings growth of more than 20% over the past 10 years. The company has a strong pipeline of new treatments that are in clinical trials and is close to launching a number of new plasma products into the market. This is expected to see earnings grow by more than 25% in FY17 and investors should also benefit from the tailwind created by a lower Australian dollar in FY16. The shares are trading at a significant premium to the broader market, but considering CSL’s future growth potential, investors will have to be prepared to pay a premium for this high-quality company.

2. Telstra Corporation Ltd (ASX: TLS) – With the shares of Telstra trading at $5.33, I think the current risk-reward equation is in favour of those investors looking to buy shares, rather than sell. Earnings growth may be slowing in the short term due to intense competition in the sector, but in this environment of low interest rates, it is hard to go past Telstra for solid income generation. The shares are now yielding 5.9%, and after franking credits are applied, this increases to a gross yield of 8.4%. The shares appeared expensive above $6 per share but the recent fall in the share price has made this an attractive investment once again and it still remains an excellent defensive stock to own during a bear market.

3. BWP Trust (ASX: BWP) – The share price of BWP Trust continues to outperform the broader market during times of volatility thanks to its is defensive earnings and highly reliable dividend payout. The share price has dropped by around 2.5% since the start of the year compared to the 7.6% fall against the broader market. Investors continue to support the stock as it has proven it can deliver consistently higher dividends to shareholders thanks to the strength of its major tenant – Bunnings Warehouse. At the current share price, investors can expect to receive an unfranked dividend of around 5.3%.

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Motley Fool contributor Christopher Georges has no position in any stocks mentioned. Unless otherwise noted, the author does not have a position in any stocks mentioned by the author in the comments below. The Motley Fool Australia has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691). Authorised by Bruce Jackson.