Florin Andone came off the bench to head the winner from Anthony Knockaert’s cross 11 minutes from time, his fourth league goal of the season.
But in a poor first half, Brighton had struggled to find the intensity necessary to get past the Premier League’s bottom team.
“It had to be a balance of getting into the players and telling them what I thought, but making sure they didn’t lose control,” Hughton said.
“The message was that we didn’t want to leave ourselves open, and we didn’t have to score in the first five minutes, but that we expected more.
“I thought it was the right result in the end, but there were not many clear chances and it was a matter of putting one or a couple away. Florin managed to do that.”
Andone had said that the pre-match mood made the game feel like a final, but Hughton’s approach, as ever, was more measured.
“I can’t afford to think that way because I am the manager and everything can’t be the be-all and end-all,” he said. “But I understand what he meant because it does feel like a big win because of recent results we have had.
“There have been some games where we could hold our hands up because we haven’t deserved to get anything. Today’s game was similar to other games in which we haven’t got results and (Huddersfield) had a couple of shots in that first half and if one of them goes in it might not be our day again.
“Those are the margins. Our levels of performance have not been bad but a little bit of nervousness sets in , a little apprehension the longer the game goes on and we haven’t scored and also, of course, huge relief when we did.”
Their recent poor run, Hughton admitted, had shocked some players. “The team has been knocked and it has been a fright. For some who don’t know the Premier League as much as others, that is how tough it is. I think we have enough character and quality but everyone else is fighting. We just have to fight harder.”
Huddersfield had won for the first time in 15 matches in midweek, beating Wolves 1-0 at the John Smith’s Stadium, but they are 13 points adrift of 17th-placed Southampton.
Terriers boss Jan Siewert was frustrated and fuming that his players had been slow to react to a free kick just before Brighton scored, allowing Andone to escape his markers and glance home a free header.
“We lost the game just because of a free kick,” he said. “In one situation we were not switched on, and you can’t allow that in the Premier League because it changes games. We go away with nothing and we definitely deserved a point here. It’s one situation that changes everything.
“I’m angry about it, for the supporters who came here and have done that all season and we go away with nothing in our hands just because of not being switched on at a free kick. This is hard, I tell you.
“The players emptied their tank against Wolverhampton in midweek and they did it (again) today. I enjoy working with them every day and they are working so hard. I see it and I see the progress. But we have to learn that this kills you in the Premier League.”