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The fear was palpable in the stock market on Thursday. Jim Cramer called it an emotional beast, and that beast was a bear, not a bull.
"This is the most high anxiety market I can recall since the great European crisis of 2011, although not as horrendous as 2008," the "Mad Money" host said.
Often when investors are scared they sell. And that is exactly what happened to stocks on Thursday.
The average stock in the is now 20 percent from its highs. Technically, stocks have been declining for a long time now, with only a select few overvalued names making the averages look better than they actually are. Things are very fragile right now.
"You can wonder if we are beginning to be in a bear market, but that is the definition of a bear market," Cramer said. (Tweet This)
With this in mind, Cramer created a fear gauge survival guide to help investors frame the anxiety they are feeling and make non-emotional decisions. He began by taking a look at what worked the last time the market was in disarray.
Cramer recommended stocks that he calls accidentally high yielders; that's a company that can afford to pay a good dividend. The yield suddenly balloons because the share price has fallen so much. But the key, Cramer said, is that the company must be able to cover the dividend from its cash flow.
Read more from Mad Money with Jim Cramer
There might be plenty of oil and gas companies with juicy yields out there, but those dividends are not safe. As for a company like Chevron, even though it has a solid business, Cramer does not trust the stock. The last time China blew up, at the end of Aug. 15, the stock traded to $70 and closed at $83 on Thursday. This was despite the fact that oil was at $40 back then — it just doesn't add up.
"I'm not bullish. I'm simply saying that the market can create bargains as it goes down. There aren't that many. However, to say that the decline is just beginning after the average stock is already down 20 percent seems both glib and complacent," Cramer said.
It might take work, but the bargains are out there. Ultimately, it is the fear of China, the Fed and earnings next week that drove the market lower Thursday. Cramer's survival guide worked last time the market was filled with fear, and there was actual systematic risk in the U.S. then. Now the risk is across the ocean, and Cramer thinks it will work again.